Trusts and Estates

Gomez v. Smith

Cite as C089338
Filed September 22, 2020, Third District

By Daniel C. Kim
Weintraub Tobin Chediak Coleman Grodin Law Corporation

Headnotes: Intentional Interference With Expected Inheritance – Burden of Proving Capacity

Summary: The causation element of an intentional interference with expected inheritance claim does not shift the burden of proving capacity to the plaintiff.

Frank Gomez and plaintiff Louise Gomez married in 2014, 60 years after Frank broke off an engagement to Louise to serve in the Korean War. Tammy Smith and Richard Gomez, two of Frank’s children from a prior marriage, did not approve of Frank’s relationship with Louise. In 2016, Frank fell ill and attempted to establish a new living trust with the intent to provide for Louise during her life. Frank’s attorney attempted to have Frank sign new testamentary documents but was unable to do so due to interference by Tammy and Richard, who called the sheriff and refused to let Frank’s attorney see Frank. Frank died the next morning. Louise sued Tammy and Richard for intentional interference with expected inheritance (“IIEI”), intentional infliction of emotional distress, and elder abuse. Louise prevailed on the IIEI claim but lost as to the remainder. Tammy also lost on her cross-complaint against Louise for recovery of trust property. Tammy appealed the judgment granting Louise’s IIEI claim.

The appellate court affirmed. A claim for IIEI requires (1) proof of an expectancy of an inheritance, (2) causation, (3) intent, (4) interference conducted by independently tortious means, (5) damages, and (6) independently tortious conduct directed at someone other than the plaintiff. On appeal, the court found that there was substantial evidence that Louise expected an inheritance, that Tammy knew of Louise’s expectation and intended to interfere with it, and that the interference caused damage to Louise. The court also found substantial evidence that Tammy engaged in two types of independent tortious conduct against Frank – undue influence and breach of fiduciary duty. Lastly, the court rejected Tammy’s argument that Louise had the burden of proving Frank had capacity to execute the new documents. The court confirmed that Probate Code section 810 establishes a rebuttal presumption of capacity that Tammy failed to rebut with substantial evidence.

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