Florida Wills and Probate: Undue Influence Claims
The term undue influence is a legal cause of action that allows someone to challenge a will’s validity. It can also be used to challenge deeds and inter vivos (during life) transfers. Undue influence is not just any type of influence. For example, asking your parents to give you a larger portion of the inheritance rather than split it evenly between all siblings is not considered undue influence. Undue influence often comes into play when someone was unexpectedly disinherited.
In cases where you can prove undue influence, the will can be set aside, overturned, and deemed invalid. However, you have to prove that undue influence exists, which is typically done through litigation and a probate trial.
If you believe you have a valid cause of action for undue influence in Florida, you need to contact a knowledgeable West Palm Beach probate attorney for assistance. Litigating an undue influence cause of action can be complex and should not be attempted without skilled counsel.
Factors to Consider in Undue Influence Claims
To be an undue influence claim, the person making the will had to not be under their own control. He or she had to have been controlled by outside influences and pressures that were so strong that they could not act on their own. When determining whether undue influence exists, some factors to look at include:
- Was the alleged influencer there when the testator signed their will and/or present when the testator expressed their desire to create their will?
- Did the alleged influencer suggest the attorney who was used to draft the will, or did they give the attorney instructions on how to prepare it?
- Did the alleged influencer know what the will said prior to it being signed?
- Were any of the witnesses to the will picked by the alleged influencer?
- Who kept the will once it was signed?
There can be a presumption that a will was executed through undue influence when the alleged influencer had a confidential relationship with the testator, was active in getting the will drawn up (active procurement), and stands to gain a lot as a beneficiary. The Florida Supreme Court identified the aforementioned criteria as being critical components of active procurement and whether undue influence exists or not in the case of In Re: Estate of Carpenter.
It’s not required that all elements be present, as it is likely a rare case where all elements exist. Instead, you’ll see some factors present in cases involving undue influence. Other signs that point to undue influence include someone who isolates the testator and disparages their family members, or there is an unequal mental acuity between the testator and the alleged influencer.
Retaining a Florida Probate Attorney
If you have questions on undue influence claims or other aspects of estate planning and probate law in Florida, it’s important to speak with a skilled attorney. At the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray, P.A., we’ve been helping individuals and businesses with their estate planning needs for over 30 years. Contact our West Palm Beach office at 561-571-8970 today to schedule a consultation.