The Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, has recognized a new cause of action: intentional interference with an inheritance or gift. The action arose out of Barclay v. Castruccio (No. 30, Sept. Term 2019). The court held unanimously that claimants who file frivolous lawsuits against named beneficiaries of a will may be liable for interference.
Per The Daily Record, “With the high court’s ruling, Maryland joins about 25 other states in recognizing a cause of action for intentional interference with an inheritance. The Court of Appeals likened the newly created claim to the business world’s long-standing cause of action for intentional interference with a contractual or economic relationship.”
A brief synopsis of the case leading to the new cause of action
Peter Castruccio of Glen Burnie created a will which left everything to his wife, Sadie, provided that she filed her own will before he died. If Mrs. Castruccio failed to file her own will, the entirety of Mr. Castruccio’s estate, valued at $6.7 million, would pass to his secretary, Darlene Barclay. Mrs. Castruccio failed to file a will, and upon Mr. Castruccio’s death, Ms. Barclay inherited the entire estate.
In response, Mrs. Castruccio filed seven lawsuits. MSBA.org explains:
[Castruccio’s] widow filed seven lawsuits against the estate, resulting in 13 trips to Maryland’s appellate courts. The sole purpose of these actions, Barclay alleged, was to interfere with and deplete her expected inheritance by requiring the estate to pay massive amounts in legal fees. Barclay sued the widow alleging, inter alia, a claim for intentional interference with the inheritance.
How the Courts reached the decision
Ms. Barclay’s case was dismissed by the circuit court and the Court of Special Appeals because Maryland did not have a cause of action for intentional interference with an inheritance. The Court of Appeals, however, decided to recognize this claim for the first time.
The Court of Appeals, citing its need to be mindful of the authority of the probate court, “satisfied that a proper balance has been struck in Section 19 of the Restatement of Torts (Third), which it adopted as the governing standard for Maryland.” As such, the Court also found, per The Daily Record, that the interferences “must have occurred while the will’s author, or testator, was alive.”
You can read the definition of the tort here.
The effects of the ruling on estate planning in Maryland
When a loved one dies, his or her estate will automatically go through probate to determine if the will is authentic and valid. Maryland’s probate court will still handle contestations and other matters related to estate planning issues.
This new cause of action, however, will allow beneficiaries to seek remedies for any injuries sustained by this interference that would not normally be available to them through the probate court system. In other words, if someone intentionally tries to prevent a beneficiary from collecting his or her inheritance, those action are now subject to liability. The caveat, however, is that this interference must occur while the author of the will is still alive; otherwise, all proceedings must go through the probate court system.
Carey Law Office has been serving clients in Bowie, Crofton, and the surrounding areas since 1981. If you are in need of thoughtful guidance in planning your estate, or have been subjected to injuries because of intentional interference, we are here to help. To schedule a consultation to discuss your estate planning, please call 301-464-2500 or fill out this contact form.