Wills & Estate How to Prove Undue Influence: Wrongful Changes to a Will
By Stephen J. Bell
There are few things more alarming than finding out a loved one has changed their will or estate plan in a way that contradicts their longstanding intentions.
In some cases, you may have the ability to disregard such a change and honor your loved one’s true wishes — if you can prove undue influence.
What is Undue Influence?
In general, people are free to dispose of their property as they see fit. But unfortunately, it is all too common for friends, family members, or caregivers to use “undue influence” to compel an infirm person to wrongfully change their will or transfer property in a way they otherwise wouldn’t.
In order qualify for undue influence, a will or property change or transfer must be of such a degree that it dominated your loved one’s will, took away his or her free agency, and prevented his or her exercise of judgment and choice. Put simply, influence is only “undue” if it amounts to force or coercion. Making threats, the use of force, restriction on visitations from friends or family members, or the existence of a fiduciary or special relationship are all examples of behaviors that lead to findings of undue influence.
Steps to Take if You Suspect Undue Influence
You do not have to wait until after after your loved one’s death to file an undue influence claim. In fact, you are best served to contact an estate litigation attorney as soon as you discover a potential claim for undue influence.
If your loved one is still living, your attorney can arrange for medical professionals to test their capacity and competence. Such tests are extremely valuable in determining whether a person was subject to undue influence at the time they made the unexpected change. If an undue influence claim is brought after your loved one’s death, you still have a claim, but you must overcome a strict evidentiary burden — a showing of unmistakable and convincing evidence — to win your case and reverse the will change or property transfer. In these cases, it is even more important to have experienced attorneys guiding you through the legal process.
The Trial Attorneys You Can Trust
If you think you may have a claim for undue influence, or have a loved one who has made an unexpected or uncharacteristic change to their will or estate plan, act promptly to protect their interests and contact an estate litigation attorney.
The attorneys at Duffy & Young are experienced estate litigators and can help you determine whether you have a viable claim for undue influence. Our goal is always the same: to help you protect and carry on the wishes of your loved ones.