Does a Claim for Intentional Interference With An Expectancy Contest the Validity of a Will ?
In In re Estate of Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d 45, 923 N.E.2d 237, 337 Ill. Dec. 678 (2009), the decedent executed a will in 1964 that designated Shriners Hospital as a contingent beneficiary of her entire estate. Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d at 47.
In 1999, the decedent executed a new will that designated James Bauman, the pastor of the decedent 's church, as sole beneficiary. Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d at 48.
After the decedent died in 2003, the 1999 will was admitted into probate.
Shriners Hospital first became aware of its interest in the 1964 will when that will was filed in the trial court in 2006 as part of a separate will contest brought by several of the decedent's heirs. Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d at 48. Shriners Hospital then filed a complaint that pleaded two counts contesting the validity of the will on grounds of undue influence and a third count alleging the tort of intentional interference with the expectancy of inheritance.
The trial court dismissed the complaint, and the appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the intentional-interference count. Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d at 49.
The supreme court reversed the dismissal of the intentional-interference count, explaining that the claim did not contest the validity of the will but rather was a personal action directed at an individual tortfeasor. Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d at 51.
The supreme court acknowledged that there could be some overlap of evidence with a will contest proceeding in establishing the distinct elements of the intentional interference tort:
(1) the existence of an expectancy;
(2) the defendant's intentional interference with the expectancy;
(3) conduct that is tortious in itself, such as fraud, duress, or undue influence;
(4) a reasonable certainty that the expectancy would have been realized but for the interference;
(5) damages. Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d at 52.
A remedy for such a tort may include a constructive trust, an equitable lien, or a monetary judgment. Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d at 52.
Thus, the supreme court reasoned that a tort claim for intentional interference with an expectancy was not a petition to contest the validity of the will under the plain language of section 8--1 of the Probate Act. Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d at 53.