Your parents always talked openly about wanting to leave behind a fair and meaningful legacy. Perhaps they joked about how you and your sibling would have to agree about what to do with their house because they wanted to leave the property to you jointly.
Although you have long known about your parents’ intention to split their estate evenly between you and your sibling, that isn’t what the documents state after your last surviving parent dies. Instead, the estate plan leaves very little to you, with most of the significant property passing to your sibling.
This scenario would make anyone suspicious, especially if the sibling receiving that property was a caregiver to the parent before they died. In that situation, the changes to the estate plan could be the result of undue influence.
What is undue influence?
The instructions someone leaves behind for their assets when they die should reflect their values and personal wishes, not the desires of other people. When someone other than the testator threatens, coerces or manipulates them into changing their estate plan, they have exerted undue influence on the testator.
People can exert that influence in different ways. Someone providing medical care for a parent in hospice could withhold medication that provides comfort. Others might try to interfere with the relationships that someone has with their other family members or go so far as to deny them food until they agree to the demands of the caregiver.
What happens with a successful claim?
If you convince the courts that your sibling exerted undue influence on the estate plan, there are different ways that the courts might respond. Often, they will revert to a previous estate plan if one exists. Occasionally, they will apply intestate succession laws to the estate instead, treating it as though your parents did not leave any written instructions when they died.
In either scenario, those changes would likely reduce the portion of the estate that your sibling receives and increase how much you receive in a way that better reflects your parents’ true intentions. Knowing when to initiate probate litigation because you suspect undue influence can protect your inheritance and the legacy your parents wanted to leave for you.