It’s one thing to be disappointed that your father is rewriting his estate plan to give more to his new wife. It’s another to stand in the doorway and physically block your father’s lawyer from entering, to prevent dad from signing the revised papers.

Frank Gomez and Louise Gomez were teenagers who happened to have the same last name when they fell in love in the 1950s. They were planning to marry, but he was called to serve in the Korean War and broke off their engagement.

When he returned from the war, Frank met and married another woman, Beverly, and they had four children. In 1998 they created a trust as part of their estate plan. Beverly died in 2012.

Sometime later, Frank and Louise reunited. In November of 2014, six decades after their first romance, they got married.

Two of Frank’s adult children, Tammy and Richard, strongly disapproved of the marriage, while his two other adult children were less opposed.

In 2015 Frank had a stroke, and later underwent surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm. Prior to the surgery, Frank went to see his attorney, Clarence McProud. According to court testimony, Frank told his new wife Louise that he “wanted to be sure that [she] was okay and taken care of if anything happened to him.

On July 14 of 2016, Frank was hospitalized, and later was transferred to a nursing home.

Frank’s estate planning attorney, Erik Aanestad, met with Frank at the nursing home on August 15 to create a new living trust. Most of their discussion was about changing the portions of the estate that would go to Frank’s children.

Kenneth Meyers, Frank’s financial advisor and a close friend, was at the meeting with the trust attorney. Frank told Meyers he wanted to leave a life estate for Louise, with his assets transferring to his children upon Louise’s death.

Meyer later testified that Frank told him that his daughter Tammy had quizzed him “about why he was going to see an attorney,” and that Frank had told Tammy it was none of her business.

On August 19, Frank went home under hospice care. Aanestad was scheduled to meet Frank and Louise at their home the following day.

Tammy and Richard arrived at the house on the 20th, prior to Aanestad’s appointment. When the lawyer and his paralegal showed up at 11:30 a.m., Louise was tending to Frank but heard Tammy yelling. According to court documents, Tammy called the sheriff’s office, and the lawyer left.

The lawyer later testified that he had gone to Frank’s home to have him sign the updated estate planning documents, a process that would have taken one to four hours.

That didn’t happen, he said, because Tammy and Richard confronted them in the driveway and prevented him and his paralegal from entering the house.

The lawyer quoted Tammy as saying to him, “You’re not going in the house. This isn’t her house. It’s my mom’s house,” and that “it wasn’t Frank's decision to make … Frank cannot change the trust.”

Frank died the very next day.

Louise later sued Tammy and Richard in Shasta County Superior Court for intentional interference with an expected inheritance, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and elder abuse.

Tammy filed a cross-complaint against Louise for recovery of trust property.

The trial court ruled in favor of Louise regarding her claim of intentional interference with expected inheritance, and in favor of Richard and Tammy as to the other causes of action. It also ruled against Tammy on her cross-complaint.

The court imposed a constructive trust in favor of Louise, allowing her to hold and use Frank’s property until her death.

Tammy appealed, arguing that Louise didn’t really expect to receive an inheritance and that Frank didn’t have the capacity to execute the trust documents, among other points.

The appellate court rejected all of her claims. It noted that the trial court had found that Frank would have executed the new trust documents if Tammy and Richard had not interfered, and the higher court saw no reason to reverse the trial court’s determination.

It’s one thing to be disappointed that your father is rewriting his estate plan to give more to his new wife. It’s another to stand in the doorway and refuse to let your father’s lawyer enter, to physically prevent dad from signing the revised papers.

As a result of Tammy’s and Richard’s actions, Louise “has been deprived of the use and enjoyment of the decedent’s estate,” the appellate justices said.

Louise did not have to prove Frank had the mental capacity to sign the documents, they said.

If the trust documents had been executed, Louise could have challenged their validity on those or other grounds. But there is “no reason nor logic” to place on Louise the burden of proving Frank was competent when the only reason she would have to do so is because of the wrongs committed by Tammy and Richard.

The justices affirmed the ruling of the lower court and ordered Tammy and Richard to pay Louie’s costs on appeal. 

This interesting case explains in detail what constitutes "intentional interference with an expected inheritance."

By Lynda I. Chung