Valencia, CA (PRWEB) May 10, 2012
The California Court of Appeal has officially recognized a new tort claim for Intentional Interference with Expected Inheritance (IIEI) in the case of Beckwith v. Dahl(G044479 - Super. Ct. No. 30-2010-00394872). This establishes an important new legal protection for unmarried couples who are wrongfully prevented from inheriting property from each other when one partner dies. The court ruled in favor of the surviving partner who was deprived of his inheritance as a result of alleged misconduct by his deceased partner’s sister which prevented the decedent from signing his will.
“This decision closes a loophole that enabled wrongdoers to defraud certain intended beneficiaries with impunity,” says Santa Clarita attorney Brett Markson of Markson Pico LLP who represents the plaintiff Brent Beckwith. “My client was particularly vulnerable under the existing law, as the surviving partner of an unmarried, unregistered same-sex couple, because he had no standing in probate—like a child or spouse—and there was no recognized civil remedy. Before recognition of this tort claim, the same was true for all unmarried, committed couples in this State. This decision is important because it not only offers protection to all people who have been wrongly denied their expected inheritance, it also holds people accountable for their wrongful and fraudulent misconduct.”
Beckwith filed a lawsuit alleging that Susan Dahl, the estranged sister of his long-term partner, Marc Christian MacGinnis, unfairly prevented MacGinnis from signing his will while MacGinnis was hospitalized awaiting life-threatening surgery. According to court documents, they would would have split MacGinnis’ estate between Beckwith and Dahl, but MacGinnis did not survive the surgery. Beckwith’s lawsuit alleges that Dahl deceived him to position herself as the sole beneficiary of the estate.
Beckwith's claim was tossed out of probate court because, as the surviving partner of an unmarried, unregistered couple, Beckwith had no legal standing. Beckwith then filed suit in civil court alleging a cause of action for IIEI—a civil claim that was not previously recognized in California. In ruling in Beckwith’s favor, the appellate court declared "it is time to officially recognize this tort claim," and granted Beckwith an opportunity to amend his complaint to state a claim for IIEI. California now joins the majority of other states recognizing IIEI as a valid cause of action.
“The court’s decision to officially recognize this new legal claim will have a wide impact beyond protecting unmarried and unregistered same sex couples,” said Markson. “The variety and diversity of our modern families has evolved. Our families include step-parents, step-siblings, half-siblings, unmarried cohabitants, same-sex couples, unregistered partners, and so on. We want to be able to share our estates with those we love. Now, people who have been disinherited as a result of another person’s unlawful misconduct will have a way to hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions.”
“On a personal level, I am overjoyed with the decision,” commented Brent Beckwith. “But the result is even more fulfilling knowing that it will help others who previously had no legal recourse.”
Representing Plaintiff Brent Beckwith were Brett S. Markson and Timothy A. Pico of Markson Pico LLP. Representing the Consumer Attorneys of California on its amicus brief was Sharon J. Arkin of The Arkin Law Firm. Representing National Center for Lesbian Rights on its amicus brief were Legal Director Shannon P. Minter and Senior Staff Attorney Christopher F. Stoll, along with Trenton H. Norris and Jeremy M. McLaughlin of Arnold & Porter LLP.