Undue influence can cause probate disputes

On Behalf of | Apr 24, 2024 | Estate And Trust Administration

Wills and trusts outline a person’s wishes regarding their assets. It’s critical that this document fully represents those wishes. Unfortunately, there are instances when people take advantage of these situations. 

Undue influence occurs when a person who dominates or has influence over the will’s creator uses that to get them to change components of their estate plan. This type of manipulation invalidates a will. 

What are the signs of undue influence?

Several key signs can suggest the presence of undue influence in estate planning:

  • Secrecy or sudden changes in the estate plan: Changes made to a will or trust that are secretive, rushed or not typical 
  • Sudden estate plan changes that favor one beneficiary: If the new plan unexpectedly benefits one person significantly more than earlier versions without a clear reason
  • Isolation of the testator: The influencer might isolate the individual from other family members or advisors to control their interactions and the flow of information
  • Dependency: The individual relies on the influencer for their daily needs, care or companionship, which can enhance the influencer’s power over them
  • Changes made when the testator is vulnerable: Amendments to estate documents when the individual is in poor health, experiencing cognitive decline or under distress.

Legal implications and challenges

Undue influence can be a challenge to prove because it will likely rely on indirect evidence. Testimony about the relationship between the creator and the person who’s exercising undue influence over them might come into the picture. 

Because of the complexities that come with these cases, it’s likely best to work with someone familiar with these matters. They can help to find ways to show the court how the evidence points to undue influence.