I’ve seen it time and time again, someone dies and divides up their assets among family and beneficiaries in a way they believe is fair, only to ultimately have one of the beneficiaries contest their inheritance. Some of these reasons include fraud, suspected forgery, lack of capacity, or even undue influence.
What is Undue Influence?
Undue influence is defined as “excessive persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming that person’s free will and results in inequity.”
More simply put, it’s when someone uses manipulative actions or tactics to convince the victim to change financial documents in their favor. Unfortunately, the mentally disabled and elderly are at risk for this type of manipulation.
Oftentimes, this occurs when a family member, caregiver, or close friend unduly influences an elderly person during a time of mental or physical distress to change their estate plans. This is usually not discovered until after their passing and beneficiaries are surprised to find they have inherited less than anticipated or written out of the will completely.
Who can Claim Undue Influence?
Only an “interested party” may bring a claim of undue influence. An interested party is someone who suffers some kind of financial damage from this exertion of undue influence.
For example, there could be a case where a child influences their elderly mother to leave a piece of property to them. Whereas previously it would have been split between all of her children. In this example, only the children left out of this specific inheritance would be considered “interested parties.”
While other family members may be aware of the undue influence and be angered by it, only the damaged parties may file a claim.
How to prove undue influence
The burden of proof in an undue influence case lies with the challenger. It is their responsibility to prove that the will or trust is invalid by supplying proper evidence.
There may not be one single piece of evidence that proves manipulation or influence, but several small pieces that align together.
This evidence may include
- Witness or expert testimonies from family members, caregivers, or healthcare providers.
- Physical evidence such as documents, written or recorded conversations, and previous statements of intent.
Representation for Undue Influence
While knowing the signs of undue influence is the first step to identifying if you have a case, it’s important that you seek the help of a qualified attorney as soon as possible. There is a statute of limitations for when claims can be made and gathering proper evidence before it’s lost or destroyed is essential.
I have years of experience in defending and representing claimants in will contest undue influence cases. Schedule a consultation today to begin discussing your case.
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