Attorneys Stephen Korshak and Lee Karina Dani

Why families sometimes worry about undue influence on a will

On Behalf of | May 20, 2024 | Probate Litigation |

People sometimes need to initiate probate litigation because they question the terms of an estate plan. Some contests arise because a testator included provisions that violate state law. Other times, families may assert that an individual had already experienced significant cognitive decline at the time they attempt to draft an estate plan. Someone without testamentary capacity cannot update a will or draft estate planning documents.

Litigation could also result when there is reason to suspect that an outside party may have influenced the terms of an estate plan. Undue influence is a somewhat confusing concept for those unfamiliar with probate statutes, but it is one of the more common grounds for will contests.

When can families contest a will by raising questions about possible undue influence?

When people abuse their relationship with someone

Undue influence is effectively one party abusing the relationship they have with a vulnerable person to unfairly influence their estate plan for personal gain. Undue influence might involve coercion, manipulation or outright abuse conducted in an effort to receive more of an estate than someone might otherwise receive.

Typically, claims of undue influence require a testator in a vulnerable position. Someone who depends on other people for medical support or basic daily activities could be at risk of experiencing undue influence. Additionally, the person influencing the estate plan has to have access to or control over the testator. Caregivers can use social isolation or abusive control to manipulate a vulnerable adult.

Finally, there must be reason to believe that the terms set when someone drafted or updated their estate plan are a reflection of the wishes of that outside party, not the testator themselves. Spouses, children and even professional caregivers can sometimes attempt to obtain an inheritance they do not deserve or a larger share of someone’s estate by inappropriately manipulating a vulnerable older adult.

Provided that families have evidence of someone’s vulnerability and estate planning terms that specifically benefit their caregiver, it could be possible to initiate probate litigation due to concerns of undue influence. Filing a will contest could help those with an interest in an estate protect their inheritance rights and also the wishes of their deceased family member.