Things You May Not Have Known About Undue Influence and Will Challenges
One of the primary ways that wills and trusts are challenged by others in the probate courts is through what is known as undue influence.
What is Undue Influence?
Undue influence means that someone has exerted some kind of pressure or coercion on the deceased while he or she was alive, and that pressure influenced the deceased to execute estate documents, or to alter estate documents, in favor of the person who was exerting the influence.
So, for example, an elderly person who may not be fully able to manage his or her own affairs, may be convinced by an “advisor,” a realtor, or a close confidant, to change his or her will to leave property to the other person. In doing so, close family, who would have and could have received the property from the deceased, are often left with much less of the inheritance, than they would have been if not for the influence exerted on the deceased.
Proving Undue Influence
Of course, influence can be difficult to prove since the person that was allegedly influenced is now deceased. That means that undue influence cases often have to be proven by circumstantial evidence, or testimony from witnesses. Medical records, emails, and other documents and correspondence can also be used.
The beneficiaries or others challenging the will or estate document, have the burden of proof to show that a will or other document was made or altered as a result of undue influence..
How Much is Influenced?
Florida law says that challengers to a will don’t have to show an entire will or trust was affected by undue influence; so long as even a part of a will or trust was created or altered because of the influence, the entirety of the document can be declared invalid.
Who Can Allege Undue Influence?
To challenge a will or trust under a theory of undue influence, the challenger must have some stake in the inheritance—that is, he or she (the challenger) must have lost something (not inherited something he or she stood to inherit) because of the exertion of the undue influence.
What Must be Proven?
There is no one, exhaustive, comprehensive list of everything that has to be proven to win an undue influence case. But there are some guidelines that have been established by courts.
The person accused of exerting the influence must have received something significant through the will or estate (or alterations to these documents).
Additionally, that person must have had a large part or an active role, in the creation of the estate documents, or their alteration or amendment, which allowed him or her to receive a substantial part of the inheritance.
Additionally, there must be some kind of confidential relationship, or trust relationship, between the deceased and the person who is accused of exerting the influence.
Call the West Palm Beach probate lawyers at The Law Offices of Larry E. Bray today for help if you have a will contest or challenge, or if you feel a will or other estate document was created or altered because of undue outside influence.