A person’s final wishes concerning the dispersal of his/her assets, a decedent’s last will and testament is usually ironclad. However, this is only true if the will was executed properly and fully complies with state law – which means the testator was not unduly influenced when disposing of his or her estate.
Even though wills found to be the product of undue influence can be thrown out by a probate court, proving this can be difficult. If you have evidence your loved one’s will does not represent his/her wishes and is the product of undue influence, it is critical to contact an experienced contested estates attorney who can help you file a claim.
What is Undue Influence?
A person’s will can only be invalidated for a few specific reasons, one of which is undue influence, a term used to describe the type of influence which prevents a testator from exercising his/her own will when disposing of an estate to such a degree the will can be said to represent the wishes of the influencer – NOT the testator. This is not to say influence must be exerted in an untoward manner in order to be undue. In fact, even affection and kindness can constitute undue influence if they have the effect of destroying the testator’s free agency. Undue influence can be exerted directly by beneficiaries, heirs or by third parties – such as the spouse of a potential beneficiary, a caretaker, or a distant relative.
Proving Undue Influence
To establish that a will was the result of undue influence, plaintiffs must prove that the undue influence was:
● Directly connected with the execution of the will; and
● The location of your important financial and legal documents;
● How to contact your financial and medical advisors;
● Operated at the time of the will’s drafting.
This burden of proof is much easier to meet in certain situations, as courts are willing to presume undue influence exists when a plaintiff can prove a degree of fiduciary relationship existed between the testator and the beneficiary, and that the beneficiary exerted dominance and enjoyed the testator’s trust. The beneficiary also must have proposed the amending of a will and have received a substantial benefit under the new version.
If these elements are fulfilled, the person who exercised that influence will bear the burden of rebutting the presumption. When this cannot be achieved, the plaintiff is entitled to judgment and the decedent’s last will and testament will be invalidated, whether in whole or in part.
Signs of Undue Influence
It can be difficult to recognize signs of undue influence, especially if the guilty party takes steps to hide his/her influence over the testator. There are, however, certain factors that, when they exist together, can indicate the existence of undue influence. For example, if close family members were left out of a will without an obvious explanation and the testator was dependent upon a person who did receive an unexpected bequest, there’s a good chance he/she was unduly influenced when drafting the will. Similarly, testators who suffer from an illness or mental incapacity and are reliant on a third party for care are especially susceptible to undue influence, so family members of individuals in these situations should remain aware of this possibility.
Contact Our Legal Team Today
Please call 847-325-5559 today to speak with the dedicated contested estates lawyers at Orlowsky & Wilson, Ltd. Attorneys at Law about your concerns regarding a loved one’s will.