The question of whether Texas recognizes a cause of action for tortious interference with inheritance rights will go before the Texas Supreme Court in February. The Court granted the petition in a case from the Amarillo Court of Appeals on December 23, 2016. Justice Quinn wrote the majority opinion in Jackson Walker, LLP v. Kinsel, No. 07-13-00130-CV, 2015 WL 2085220 (Tex. App.—Amarillo Apr. 10, 2015, pet. granted), a case transferred from the Fort Worth Court of Appeals. In the Supreme Court, the case is styled Kinsel v. Lindsey, no. 15-0403.
Justice Quinn wrote that neither Amarillo nor Fort Worth have recognized the cause of action, which is described in § 774B of the Restatement (Second) of Torts and, “it is not for intermediate courts to create new causes of action.” A dissent authored by Justice Pirtle cited cases from 12 courts of appeals that have at least mentioned the cause of action. The dissent also stated that six intermediate appellate court cases, including two from Amarillo, had recognized the cause of action and that no court has expressly rejected the cause of action. Disagreeing with the dissent, the majority opinion stated that no Texas appellate court had recognized the cause of action.
Almost a year after the Walker opinion, the Austin court of appeals did expressly reject the cause of action. Archer v. Anderson, 490 S.W.3d 175 (Tex. App.—Austin 2016, pet. filed), reversed a $2.5 million judgment. A petition is pending in this case (no. 16-0256). Full briefing was completed in late December. It is likely the Supreme Court will grant that petition and hear the cases together.
Whether one can even have inheritance “rights” is an issue. The Archer opinion notes that a prospective beneficiary’s interest in receiving an inheritance is merely an “expectancy or hope.” However, most of the other opinions have not focused on that issue. The cases usually arise from a situation in which a decedent had a prior will specifically dividing property among individuals and changed it to exclude or dilute those individuals’ interests, allegedly because of interference by one or more of the individuals who ended up with a much greater share of the estate under the new will.
This issue has been percolating over the last two decades and is ready for Supreme Court analysis. Stay tuned.