Mulvey v. Stephens
Mulvey v. Stephens, --- So.3d --- (Fla. 4th DCA 2018)
In this typical fact pattern, a child from the decedent's first marriage, following a failed attempt to have the decedent's estate planning documents overturned, brought an action against the decedent's second spouse for tortious interference. While she prevailed at trial, the Court overturned the judgment because there was no competent evidence to support a claim for tortious interference with an expectancy.
A claim for tortious interference of a testamentary expectancy requires: (1) the existence of an expectancy, (2) intentional interference with the expectancy through tortious conduct, (3) causation and (4) damages. The claim should only be brought, "if the circumstances surrounding the tortious conduct effectively preclude adequate relief in the probate court."
Here, after a failed will contest, the daughter brought a tortious interference claim against the decedent's second spouse based on what she believed was competent and substantial indirect evidence of the spouse's undue influence. The Court held that undue influence in this arena requires actions that are independently tortious in order to impose liability. Where there was no evidence of an independent tort committed by the spouse, the Court held that it could not impose liability. It held that the spouse's lack of involvement or influence with regard to the decedent's ownership of a ranch, and the failure to show evidence of any lies to the decedent about his assets, estate plan or children, required reversal of the daughter's judgment.