Anyone familiar with tort law?
I found that Iowa courts have recognized a claim based on interference with inheritance. Tortious Interference With Expectancy of Inheritance: Huffey v. Lea, 491 N.W.2d 518 (Iowa 1992); Frohwein v. Haesemeyer, 264 N.W.2d 792 (Iowa 1978).
"The usual case is that in which the third person has been induced to make or not to make a bequest or a gift by fraud, duress, defamation or tortuous abuse of a fiduciary duty, or has forged, altered or suppressed a will or a document making a gift."
The most common basis involving wrongful interference is undue influence. The Restatement (Third) of Property summarizes the concept thus: “The doctrine of undue influence protects against overreaching by a wrongdoer seeking to take unfair advantage of a donor who is susceptible to such wrongdoing on account of the donor’s age, inexperience, dependence, physical or mental weakness, or other factor. A donative transfer is procured by undue influence if the influence exerted over the donor overcame the donor’s free will and caused the donor to make a donative transfer that the donor would not otherwise have made.”
Undue influence involves “excessive and unfair persuasion, sufficient to overcome the free will of the transferor, between parties who occupy either a confidential relation or a relation of dominance on one side and subservience on the other.” The concept is meant to capture forms of mistreatment that are less overtly coercive than fraud or force or threat of force. Rather, it refers to “overreaching” and “overpersuasion.” In the inheritance context, undue influence commonly takes the form of a caretaker who ingratiates himself to an elderly and infirm donor, while at the same time isolating the donor from friends, family members, and physicians, after which the donor, at the suggestion of the caretaker, arranges to transfer property to the caretaker.
Inferences, Presumptions, and Burden Shifting. To impose structure on the unruly undue influence concept, courts have developed an elaborate scheme of inferences, presumptions, and burden shifting. For example, although the contestant normally has the burden of proving that a will was procured by undue influence, the prevailing rule is that the trier-of-fact can infer undue influence from circumstantial evidence showing that “(1) the donor was susceptible to undue influence, (2) the alleged wrongdoer had an opportunity to exert undue influence, (3) the alleged wrongdoer had a disposition to exert undue influence, and (4) there was a result appearing to be the effect of the undue influence.”
This rule of inference brings order to the question of what circumstantial evidence is relevant and therefore admissible. Moreover, in most jurisdictions the contestant is entitled to a presumption of undue influence if the contestant shows the existence of a confidential relationship between the alleged influencer and the testator plus at least one other suspicious circumstance. The term “confidential relationship” encompasses traditional fiduciary relationships, such as a lawyer and client, as well as other relationships that are “based on special trust and confidence” justifying the donor in “placing confidence in the belief that the alleged wrongdoer would act in the interest of the donor.” For example, a confidential relationship may be found between a caregiver and an enfeebled patient or an adult child and an enfeebled parent.
Suspicious circumstances include a will executed while the donor was in a weakened physical or mental state; the absence of an independent lawyer representing the donor’s interests; the making of the will “in secrecy or in haste”; and the making of a will that is a substantial departure from the donor’s prior, longstanding estate plan. An especially powerful suspicious circumstance, which may give rise to an enhanced presumption of undue influence, is if “the disposition of the property is such that a reasonable person would regard it as unnatural, unjust, or unfair, for example, whether the disposition abruptly and without apparent reason disinherited a faithful and deserving family member.”
When a presumption of undue influence is triggered, the burden shifts to the proponent to come forward with rebuttal evidence—for example, by showing that the presumed influencer “acted in good faith throughout the transaction and the grantor acted freely, intelligently, and voluntarily.”
In the absence of such rebuttal evidence, the contestant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The theory is that a person who benefits from a confidential relationship “can take precautions to ensure that proof exists that the transaction was fair and that his principal was fully informed, and he is in the best position after the transaction to explain and justify it.”
The remedies available to a plaintiff in a successful action include a constructive trust, equitable lien, or monetary judgments. The monetary judgment against a defendant may include consequential loss damages, emotional-distress damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. Furthermore, for alleged wrongful lifetime transfers induced by the defendant, courts of equity have the ability to set those transfers aside.