Undue Influence Claims

Even where a will is admitted to probate in an effort to settle the decedent’s estate, an interested party may bring a challenge to the validity of the will or its specific provisions. One basis to contest a will is a claim of undue influence.

Undue influence claims arise in circumstances where it is alleged that the decedent did not exercise his or her judgment in making the will but made the will according to the wishes of another. Undue influence may be defined as persuasion, pressure, or influence short of actual force; however, it is stronger than mere advice. This influence acts to overpower the individual so that he or she does not execute the will as he or she would voluntarily do. Instead, he or she is doing as the influencing person wants.

Typical cases involving undue influence occur either where someone considered not to be a “natural heir” is named in the will to receive a large portion of the estate or perhaps if one of the multiple children in a family is designated to receive a large and disproportionate amount of the estate, compared to the other siblings.

The most obvious issue with claims of undue influence is one of proof. Individuals may, of course, leave their assets to any person of their choosing, and the decedent is no longer available to explain his or her actions.

But the specific facts of each case can be analyzed by an experienced probate litigation attorney to establish the viability of your undue influence claim. For instance, are there multiple wills? It is not unusual that different parties may submit different wills from the decedent to probate, each claiming to be the will that should be enforced.

If different wills are submitted, does one show a very drastic change of terms of disposition? Did the heir who is named as the main beneficiary have primary access and control of the decedent in the time leading up to the decedent’s death? Was the decedent in a declining state of poor health in the times prior to death?

If a claim of undue influence is found to have merit, the court can disallow that part of the will that was successfully challenged, admit an earlier valid will (if one exists), or determine the decedent died intestate. A consultation with a probate litigation attorney can assist you in better understanding these issues. Contact dedicated probate litigation attorney today to schedule a free consultation.