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After a loved one passes and it comes time to go over the will, surprises occasionally crop up. Unfortunately, some of the surprises are unpleasant as survivors learn that details of the will appear to run contrary to expectations of the deceased’s wishes or interests.
When this occurs, it’s not unreasonable to suspect undue influence had been exerted on the deceased and that the will may not be valid.
Undue influence describes a situation in which one person places pressure on another in a way that has legal significance or consequences—most often in the form of entering a contract or drafting a will. Usually, the influencer is in a position or relationship with the testator that allows them to have a guiding hand in writing the will to their benefit. This influencer could be a caretaker, health aide, attorney, clergy, or even a family member.
What a court examines in determining the presence of undue influence is evidence of the testator’s intent. If prior indications of the testator’s wishes regarding property or other assets contradict what appears in the will, and a challenger can provide proof, a will could be declared invalid.
An individual who may have applied pressure on the testator in drafting their will often give themselves away by:
This is where it can get tricky.
The passing of a loved one results in a lot of stress for everyone. When people are excluded from wills or benefits, it’s easy for fingers to start pointing and accusations to start flying.
To claim undue influence, a challenger needs to:
Be prepared for an uphill battle. The burden of proof is most challenging on the challenger. The process can be long and expensive. Perhaps most importantly, it can inflict a severe emotional drain on the challenger and other connected parties.
Should the challenger succeed in proving to a court that the will, in whole or in parts, was subject to undue influence and does not reflect the actual intentions of the deceased,,, the court will usually declare the will invalid and distribution of assets will follow intestacy laws and be guided by familial relationships.
On occasion, the course will only void the benefits that would have gone to the influencer while leaving the rest of the will intact.
If you are unsure whether a recently deceased loved one indeed intended to leave you out of their will or want to challenge the validity of the will based on strong suspicions of undue influence, do not hesitate to consult with an estate planning attorney.
Determining undue influence is a complicated, harrowing process that can be subject too much to interpretation. Allowing a qualified attorney to review the details of your challenge and evaluate the likelihood of success can save you a lot of time, money, and grief. Or it can confirm that you are doing the right thing in fighting for the original intent of your recently-passed loved one.
If you are currently in need of legal guidance on a similar situation, contact Heban, Murphree, & Lewandowski LLC today!