Proving Undue Influence in Florida Estate Planning Matters
Unfortunately, some people look for others who appear vulnerable and easily misled to defraud them. Typically, targets are the elderly and people who are quite ill. These acts of fraud can fall under both elder abuse and estate planning matters. When someone uses “undue influence” on an elderly person, the end result is usually a string of fraudulent events. Most people think about undue influence concerning a will, but it extends much further than that. Someone might set up credit cards, bank accounts, and other financial transactions, which could ultimately deplete the estate account and trusts after the victim passes away.
In many cases, the string of fraudulent transactions is not uncovered until the estate goes through probate. Some criminals are experienced and won’t tip off the estate right away by having themselves as the primary beneficiary in the decedent’s will. Instead, they will have used undue influence to have themselves added as beneficiaries to accounts that pass outside of probate, like some bank accounts and trusts. When you suspect your family member is a victim of undue influence, it’s essential to contact a skilled West Palm Beach probate attorney right away.
It’s not uncommon for an estate plan to have POD or pay-on-death accounts. These allow assets to be distributed to a beneficiary without the need to go through probate. However, if there is a claim of undue influence, the court could step in and invalidate them. If the person already received the funds’ distribution, the court can order them to return the funds and invalidate the POD designation.
Challenging a Beneficiary Designation
The right to challenge a beneficiary designation is not limited to POD accounts either. You can challenge designations on trusts or any other testamentary instruct that acts as a will substitute. Florida has laws to prevent the abuse of confidential or fiduciary relationships. However, it is not necessarily easy to challenge estate planning instruments based on undue influence. That is why it’s best to retain an experienced West Palm Beach estate planning and probate law attorney.
Proving Undue Influence Claims in Florida
Before you can have the beneficiary designation revoked, you must have the necessary evidence to prove there was undue influence. Undue influence involves the shifting of burdens of proof. Initially, the plaintiff has the burden to show that the victim was in a weakened state, that the wrongdoer had a confidential relationship with the victim and that the wrongdoer actively participated in the wrongful act. The burden then shifts to the wrongdoer to come up with a reasonable explanation for why the victim did why he/she did. You need to also show the victim was vulnerable, there was apparent authority on the part of the wrongdoer, what actions and tactics the wrongdoer did, and the inequitable result of the wrongdoer’s actions.
You need to look at what the wrongdoer did to control the victim. They must have engaged in behavior that was designed to control the victim’s actions. Controlling victims can be in the form of medication, food, medical attention, and various other life necessities. If the victim was depending on the wrongdoer to take care of them, they probably compelled the victim to do whatever the wrongdoer wanted. In addition to bank accounts, they might control all the victim’s income sources, real estate holdings, other financial accounts, etc.
Contact a Florida Estate Planning and Probate Attorney
If you suspect undue influence on one or more aspects of a loved one’s estate, don’t attempt to challenge it on your own. Let our skilled West Palm Beach probate attorneys help. Contact the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray, P.A. today.