Do you have reason to believe that a loved one or family member was unduly influenced when drafting their will? This is a particularly difficult challenge for anyone in your position, as it involves financial, legal, and emotional turmoil. But what is undue influence, and how can you prove it to the probate court? To help you answer these questions, here are the four elements generally involved in will-contest litigation.
1. Vulnerability of the Individual
To be unduly influenced, the writer of the will must have been in a particularly vulnerable state. The specific circumstances of wills generally imply that the person was either aged or infirm, so they were more vulnerable than the average person. However, the underlying causes of vulnerability vary.
2. Authority of the Influenced
The second component of influence is the role of the influencer. This individual must have had some type of authority over the influenced person — in a financial, physical, or emotional way. Examples of such authority include caregivers, legal professionals, family members, home health care providers, fiduciaries, or spiritual advisors.
3. Methods of Influence
How do you believe the influence occurred? There should be demonstrable tactics that you can point to in order to show unfair influence. For instance, the person may have worked with the deceased in secret or pushed them to sign documents in haste. They may have intimidated, coerced, or even threatened the person with harm (against them or their loved ones). Or they could have controlled vital care, using it to exert their wishes.
4. Inequality of Results
In most cases of undue influence, the results are fairly clear when the will is read. The motives for undue influence are generally financial, so that person or their family members may receive an outsize portion of the estate. They also get control over the estate by being named the executor. Or other heirs are left out of the will with no explanation. This is particularly obvious if there are prior wills with very different instructions.
Where to Start
The presence of these four indicators could mean that you have a solid case for the undue influence of your loved one. Start by learning more about how to prove them before a probate court judge. Meet with an estate litigation attorney in your state soon. With their guidance and expertise, your loved one's true wishes will be protected and their heirs cared for.