There are many reasons that family members or beneficiaries may believe a will contest is necessary after the death of a loved one. These reasons to contest a will may include fraud, forgery, lack of capacity, or perhaps the instance of undue influence.
What is Undue Influence?
Undue Influence, as defined by the California Welfare and Institutions Code, is “excessive persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming that person’s free will and results in inequity.”
It is when someone in a close or confidential relationship uses manipulative actions or tactics to convince the victim to change financial documents in favor of the influencer. Oftentimes, the mentally disabled and elderly are at-risk persons for this type of manipulation.
Often, this occurs when a family member, caregiver, or close friend unduly influences an elderly person during a time of mental or physical distress to change their estate plans.
It is often not discovered until after their passing and beneficiaries are surprised to find they have inherited less than anticipated.
If the influencer did not benefit from the changes, such as when a wife convinces her husband to leave money to a close friend rather than an estranged daughter, this case is not typically considered undue influence.
Who may Claim Undue Influence?
Only an interested party may bring a claim of undue influence in a will or trust contest. An interested party is someone who suffers financial damages from this exertion of undue influence.
For instance, there could be a case where a child unlawfully influences their mother to leave a piece of real estate to the single influencer. Whereas previously it would be inherited by all of her children, only the children left out of this specific inheritance would be considered “interested parties.”
Other family members may be aware the influence existed and be angered by it, but only the damaged parties may file a claim during probate litigation.
Proving Undue Influence
In order to prove undue influence, the burden of proof lies on the challenger. This means it is their responsibility to prove that the will or trust is invalid by supplying proper evidence. There may not be one single piece of evidence that proves the existence of manipulation or influence, but several small pieces of evidence that align together.
The evidence may include witness or expert testimonies from family members, doctors, caregivers, healthcare providers, and more. Physical evidence such as documents, written or recorded conversations, and previous statements of intent are excellent sources of evidence.
Representation for Undue Influence
Knowing the signs of undue influence is the first step to identifying if you have a case. If you believe you have suffered damages due to undue influence, it is important that you seek legal representation immediately. There is a statute of limitations for when claims can be made and gathering the proper evidence before it is lost or destroyed is absolutely essential.
Likewise, if you have been accused of exerting undue influence over a loved one, you should immediately seek representation.
As one of the top law firms in Orange County, our team at The Legacy Lawyers have years of experience in defending and representing claimants in will contest undue influence cases. Schedule a consultation with us today to begin discussing your case by filling out our online contact form.