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Can I contest a will due to undue influence?

On Behalf of | Jan 31, 2018 | Trust & Estate Litigation

When a loved one dies in Orange County, it is not unusual for family members to argue and disagree over the possessions and assets that person left behind. Though there may be a will and trusts in place to ensure the smooth transfer of ownership to other relatives, those documents are not always enough to prevent disputes. One common reason for estate disputes to arise involves undue influence.

Undue influence involves the manipulation of the testator that results in altering the estate plans to include the manipulator and influencer. Usually, undue influence is not apparent until the person passes and the contents of the will and estate planning documents become clear to the family. Here is a brief overview of undue influence and wills.

How undue influence occurs

People who manipulate others into revising their estate documents to include them often resort to different tactics. These individuals can be anyone who is in a position of trust to the testator, including family members, children, caregivers and solicitors. Common tactics solicitor’s usually use include restricting family access and communications, withholding medication and treatment, and coercion.

The burden of proof falls on the claimant

To prove that the deceased was under influence, the person disputing the will must show that the testator’s actions were illogical and would not have occurred from any other action than manipulation. The courts consider several factors in undue influence claims, including if the solicitor had any involvement in the testator’s estate plan decisions, if and how the influencer benefits from them, and the testator’s capacity and the effects of the coercion on the will. Proving undue influence is not easy. Sometimes, relatives who are not happy with the deceased’s final wishes make false claims of undue influence. The courts do not take these claims lightly. If the claimant cannot prove the accusations, the courts will honor the testator’s will and trusts.

Knowing what the deceased was thinking and going through before and at the time of death is complex. Anyone who suspects their loved one faced coercion and manipulation should consider speaking to an attorney for guidance.