Interference with an Inheritance

 A recent ruling issued by the Iowa Court of Appeals involved an issue of a claim for tortious interference with an inheritance.  The ruling dealt with when does the statute of limitations period start for such a claim.

Here, the deceased had previously provided for her brothers in her will.  Subsequently, she changed her will to leave her estate to her niece, made significant gifts to her niece, and changed certain accounts to POD (Payable on Death) to her niece and her husband.  The deceased's brothers discovered some of the changes and gifts, but did not see a copy of the new will.  Several years later, the deceased passed away and one brother (the other died previously) contested the will and also the lifetime transfers based on the claim of interference with an inheritance.  The estate responded by indicating that it was too late...they knew about the transfers to the niece years before and didn't do anything.  The trial court agreed that the statute of limitations prohibited that claim.

In reversing, the Iowa Court of Appeals stated that as the family was not allowed to see the updated will, there is a question as to when they knew about the cash transfers and there is a question of when the claim actually accrued.  While I'm struggling to understand the Court's rationale, it appears that the lack of knowledge of the provisions of the will prevented the family of knowing whether their expected inheritance was affected.  When the will was admitted to probate, then they became aware that they had been disinherited.

This case is representative of a growing trend of cases involving interference with inheritance in Iowa.  The use of alternative methods to transfer assets is becoming more and more common and can short-circuit the estate plan.  I will be presenting additional information about this topic in the near future.

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