The surviving family members of someone who recently died usually know what to expect from their estate plan. Adults who have taken the time to draft the state planning paperwork often disclose their intentions to their close family members. Children, spouses and others know what they could likely inherit and also who the decedent selected to serve as the personal representative of their estate.
For most families, reading the will is a formality followed by months of impatient waiting. But, occasionally, reading the will leads to surprise because the terms included are far different from what someone had always discussed with their loved ones. Perhaps they disinherited multiple family members and left an unusually large portion of their estate to one individual.
Maybe they reduced what certain family members would receive or granted a large asset to one person instead of ordering its sale to divide its value between beneficiaries. Family members may start to question what inspired those changes to someone’s legacy. Occasionally, it may be the undue influence of a particular beneficiary that provoked those changes.
What is undue influence?
In the estate planning realm, undue influence refers to someone using their relationship with the testator to influence the terms included in their estate plan. Often, the person exerting undue influence has a close relationship with the testator. Spouses and children can apply undue influence to someone, as can anyone serving as a caregiver when they are medically vulnerable.
These people use their knowledge of the testator or their control over their daily life to compel them to change aspects of their estate plan. They could interfere in relationships, withhold pain medication or manipulate someone by lying to them to obtain the estate plan changes they want. The documents that someone leaves behind would potentially then reflect the wishes of a beneficiary rather than their own intentions.
Typically, those alleging undue influence need to show that someone was in a position to influence the testator and that they benefited from estate planning changes. Still, if successfully, contesting a will if there are signs of undue influence may help families better uphold the true intentions of a deceased loved one.