For many families, reviewing someone’s will or estate plan is a technical process. Everyone already knows what to expect, so there are no surprises in the early stages of estate administration. For a small number of families, the terms in the estate plan will come as a shock.
Despite a parent insisting that they would split funds evenly among their children, one child inherited nearly everything or a stepparent received the entire estate with nothing going to the children. If you believe that those surprising changes were the result of undue influence, you may have grounds to contest the will in probate court.
What are some of the signs of undue influence on an estate plan?
Changes late in life
It is advisable for people to keep their estate planning documents up to date, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will make drastic changes in the final years of their lives.
Removing deceased beneficiaries, adding new assets to the documents and otherwise correcting estate documents for changing life circumstances are all a far cry from completely altering the division of assets and what individual beneficiaries will receive.
One person receives far more than everyone else
When a questionable change benefits one or possibly two family members at the expense of everyone else, that is reason to consider the situation carefully.
Especially if the individual receiving the surprisingly large portion of the estate was a caregiver or had more social contact with the deceased in their final years than other family members, they may have exerted influence over the testator to forced them to change their estate plan.
The deceased had health issues in their final years
Someone dependent on the care of others or struggling with chronic pain may act in ways that they would not have earlier in life. They can be more vulnerable to manipulation by others and quicker to assume the worst. Some people will use this change in mood and personality to manipulate someone and undermine a lifetime of intentions by leveraging a few months of personal frustration for their own gain.
If you recognize your family circumstances in these scenarios, especially if there is overlap between these three issues, then you may have a good case for claiming undue influence. Knowing when you have grounds to initiate probate litigation can help you protect the legacy that your loved one actually wanted to leave.