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Disputing a will for undue influence

In our society, someone's last wishes are generally considered very important, especially when those wishes are written down and formalized into a legal will. In order for someone else to contest that will, there generally has to be a good reason in order for the court to hear it.

An allegation of "undue influence" is one good reason to contest a will. Alleging undue influence is essentially saying that a beneficiary found a way to pressure, con or even bully the deceased into writing his or her will out a certain way.

But how can you tell the difference between someone's actual wishes and a will that's the result of undue influence?

Here are some "red flags" might indicate a situation where there was undue influence:

-- A long-standing will was suddenly changed to heavily favor just one person, with no real explanation, when it had been dived up much more evenly before.

-- There's evidence that the deceased, prior to his or her death, made unusually large gifts or loans to the favored individual.

-- The new beneficiary is a non-family member whose history with the deceased as a friend or significant other is fairly recent and began when the deceased was already physically or mentally declining.

-- There's evidence that the deceased was excessively dependent on the beneficiary to handle his or her personal and financial affairs.

-- Changes to the will were not made through the deceased's regular attorney, and the attorney did not interview the deceased alone when the changes were made.

-- No one in the family except the newly favored beneficiary was made aware of the new will or given copies, when previous estate-planning issues had always been freely discussed and copies of the will entrusted to others.

There are many other signs that you might see, some of which may have been visible prior to the individual's death, such as isolating him or her from family members as much as possible. Other signs might only come to light later, such as copies of checks that look like they were written by someone else and then only signed by the deceased.

It's not likely to be any one thing that proves your case so much as the overall weight of the factors together. If you suspect undue influence was involved in a relative's will, an attorney can provide more information about possibly disputing it.

Source: FindLaw, "How to Contest a Will or Trust," accessed Feb. 06, 2017

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