How do you prove “undue influence” affected a deceased loved one’s mind and caused that person to alter his or her will? After all, you can bet that the person who exerted that influence was careful to do it in private, away from the eyes of friends and family members who might have questions about their motives. You can also bet that person isn’t going to admit in court, when asked, that he or she committed a calculated act of constructive fraud by pressuring or manipulating the deceased into altering the will in question.
Given those difficulties, how can anyone hope to contest a will based on undue influence and win?
It isn’t easy. Frankly, the right attorney can make all the difference because it takes patience and skill to make the court see how someone abused a position of power or trust in the deceased’s life to his or her personal benefit. Generally speaking, an attorney in an undue influence case will try to get the court to examine:
- The relationship between the deceased and the person accused of exerting undue influence. Who was this person to the testator? How did he or she gain control or influence over the deceased? Was the testator living with him or her or otherwise dependent on that person for anything?
- The previous will or wills the deceased prepared — or promises the deceased had made. How did the deceased’s final will differ from those previous wills or promises? Was there any rational explanation for the apparent change of heart?
- The lack of independent advice. Who advised the deceased before the will was changed? Was an attorney involved when the deceased made his or her last will? Was anyone aside from the person accused of exerting undue influence there to assist the testator when the will was reviewed and signed?
- How the person exerting undue influence benefited. What did that person gain that he or she didn’t have before? Was it of significant value?
- The testator’s medical and mental condition at the time the will was drafted and signed. Was the testator very ill? Were a number of contrasting wills prepared within a short period of time?
Contested will litigation can be arduous. Our attorneys have the experience and knowledge to recognize the signs of coercion, and they can help the court recognize it as well.