What evidence can help you prove undue influence on a last will?

What evidence can help you prove undue influence on a last will?

| Feb 10, 2021 | Will |

Family members are often intimately familiar with the last wishes of their loved ones. You may have talked about their legacy or even been present when they met with an estate and probate attorney. Your loved one may have even had you select certain property to specifically go to you when they die, like a cherished grandfather clock or their formal flatware.

Some people receive an unpleasant surprise during the reading of the will when their loved one dies. The terms the family long knew and accepted have suddenly changed to benefit other people. Especially if the beneficiaries of these changes served as caregivers for your ailing loved one or if they are a new spouse with a significant age difference, your family may start to wonder if undue influence didn’t affect the estate plan.

How do you prove undue influence in probate court?

Gather evidence about your loved one’s historical preferences

Do you or an attorney who has previously worked for you have a copy of the earlier estate plan or last will? Do you have emails or group text messages among your family discussing the terms?

Written documentation is ideal, but testimony from attorneys, notaries and family members can all help show the courts what your loved one’s established preferences were. This can draw attention to the changes and how they benefit fewer people, such as the caregiver.

How do you think the beneficiary exerted influence?

In addition to showing how the estate plan deviates from the lifelong stated wishes of your loved one, you also have to prove that the new beneficiary pushed for those changes.

Maybe nurses or other caregivers overheard someone pressuring or even threatening your loved one about their estate plan. Perhaps you or other family members have records of denied visitation, declined phone calls and other evidence of intentional social isolation.

If a caregiver leverages their position to threaten someone or makes the deceased’s family feel as though their loved one abandoned them, it could constitute undue influence in the eyes of the probate courts.

Proving that someone altered your loved one’s estate plan for their own benefit can prompt the probate courts to revert the estate plan to a previous version or to enter a ruling about how to handle the assets in the estate.

 

William G. Peterson
FindLaw