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Kentucky Rejects Tortious Interference with Inheritance
Posted in Estate Planning

The Kentucky Court of Appeals recently ruled that Kentucky does not recognize the cause of action known as tortious interference with inheritance or gift.  This ruling confirms a previous line of several unpublished opinions which previously ruled that Kentucky does not recognize such a tort.  In this case, the daughter of the settlor of a trust argued that her mother had intentionally interfered with the daughter’s inheritance from her late father’s trust, by placing a bequest to the daughter in the mother’s own estate plan to cover any shortfall in a large specific bequest made to the daughter in the father’s trust.

The Court rejected the daughter’s claim on the basis both that Kentucky does not recognize a cause of action for tortious interference with a right of inheritance or gift, and also that no tortious interference had been made by the mother.  The mother had a provision in her own trust stating that, to the extent that the daughter did not receive the full $1.5 million specific bequest from the late father’s trust at the mother’s subsequent death, any shortfall would be made up from the mother’s own trust assets.  This bequest was made by the mother’s trust conditional on the daughter not disclosing publicly the daughter’s allegations of wrongdoing in the nature of sexual abuse by the son when both daughter and son were young. 

The Court found that the bequest in the mother’s trust did not alter or amend the bequest in the father’s trust.  If the father’s trust had enough funds left at the mother’s death to fund the full $1.5 million bequest, then it would still be distributed to the daughter from the father’s trust.  Rather, the bequest in the mother’s trust would only serve to supplement the amount payable under the father’s trust, if the father’s trust were not large enough itself to fund the $1.5 million bequest fully at the mother’s death. 

There was a second issue in the case, involving the mother’s use of her Power of Attorney from the father to sell the father’s controlling unit in a Family LLC to the mother herself on the day before the father’s death.  The daughter asserted that the mother had breached her duty of good faith by self-dealing in making this sale and purchase. 

The Court found that the daughter’s claim made in Circuit Court was both untimely and filed in the wrong Court.  The Court found that a Kentucky statute, KRS 395.510, did not permit a beneficiary to challenge an executrix’s decision not to pursue a claim, whether against herself or otherwise, after the estate was closed, unless the beneficiary first raised an objection in District Court.  Here, the daughter had failed to institute such a proceeding in District Court before her father’s estate had closed, and instead included this claim in her suit in Circuit Court at a later date. 

The Court also rejected a claim that the mother had intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon the daughter by imposing the public silence condition on the mother’s bequest to the daughter in the mother’s own Trust.  The Court determined that the right of the mother to engage in lawful estate planning overrode any public policy concerns created by attempting to incentivize the daughter financially not to make public her sexual abuse accusations against her brother.  The Court also found that the expert testimony offered by the daughter’s physician was not sufficient to establish that the daughter had suffered severe emotional injury.

In all, the Court ruled on fifteen (15) separate issues.  The Court reversed the verdict of the jury in the Jefferson Circuit Court trial below on a large majority of the claims made by the daughter, finding in favor of the mother instead.  The opinion is very thorough, highly analytical and makes for compelling reading.  Dickson v. Shook (2017-CA-000023) and (2017-CA-001115)  (decision not final).

  • Partner

    John is a partner in the firm's Estate Planning Department. He focuses his practice on estates, trusts, family business and disability planning, and the administration of estates and trusts. John also has an active health law ...

  • Partner

    John is Chair of the firm's Estate Planning Department. He also leads the firm's Senior Partner Committee, and is a member of the firm's Finance Committee. John, a former Certified Public Accountant, began his career in the tax ...

  • Associate

    Ben is an attorney in the Estate Planning department. He assists clients in developing estate and disability plans, including wills, trusts, powers of attorney, living will directives and funeral planning declarations. Ben also ...

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