Invalidating a Will Because of Undue Influence
Unfortunately, the relationship between family members and a loved one who is nearing death is sometimes damaged by the influence of another person. Once a loved one has died, it may be discovered that his or her last will and testament greatly benefits the person who exerted influence and control over the deceased prior to death. Can such a will be invalidated?
Challenging a Will for Undue Influence
Once a will is offered for probate, filing a challenge (a.k.a. caveat) to the will on the ground that it was obtained by undue influence is one way in which the will can be invalidated. Undue influence occurs when the influence of a person upon the testator (i.e., the person who died with a will) is so strong that the will reflects the intent of the person who exercised influence, as opposed to that of the testator. Since the actions of a person who exerts undue influence over the testator are typically concealed, and the testator is no longer alive when the will is offered for probate to explain what happened, a challenge based upon the ground of undue influence may be supported by a wide range of evidence.
Proving Undue Influence
Caveats on the ground that the will was obtained by undue influence can be supported by evidence that the person who influenced the testator:
- Unreasonably benefits from the terms of the will;
- Had a confidential or fiduciary relationship with the testator;
- Was capable of exerting power or control over a submissive testator;
- Isolated the testator from his or her family and friends; and/or
- Took an active part in the preparation of the will.
The challenge can also be supported by evidence that the testator suffered from mental illness, took mind altering drugs, or was otherwise weak of mind, because the influence necessary to dominate a weak mind is less than that necessary to dominate a strong one. Another consideration is whether the testator was unnaturally dependent upon the primary beneficiary of the will. For example, a testator who fears that his or her medication will be withheld, or that he or she will be sent to a nursing home, may be more easily influenced by coercion.
Fighting a Claim of Undue Influence
However, challenges for undue influence cannot be based on mere speculation. It is not enough to show that the testator placed a general trust and confidence in the primary beneficiary of the will. A claim of undue influence can also be rebutted by evidence that the testator was strong willed, confident, and of sound mind.
Experienced Probate and Estate Litigation Lawyers
Challenges on the ground that a will was obtained by undue influence are decided based on the unique facts of each case. Therefore, it is important to consult with an experienced estate litigation attorney to determine the merits of a caveat. If you suspect that the will of a family member or friend was obtained by undue influence, or if you are a beneficiary facing a challenge to your rights under a will, contact the probate lawyers of Schklar & Heim, LLC at (404) 888-0100.