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Who can exert undue influence and alter an estate plan?

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2024 | Estate Litigation |

Usually, estate planning documents and state law determine what happens with someone’s property after they die. State law can manage the entire process, or people can take control of their legacies by creating wills. A will can designate specific assets for individual beneficiaries. People generally have the right to include whatever terms they see fit in their wills, as long as they don’t violate state law.

Sometimes, the family members of a person who recently died have questions about the estate plan. There are a few unusual situations that might justify the decision to file a probate lawsuit. Family members can contest or challenge the estate planning documents in certain situations, but they need a valid reason to do so.

One of the legal grounds for contesting a will is the claim that an outside party exerted undue influence. Undue influence involves someone using their relationship with a testator to manipulate the terms included in their will or other estate planning documents. Who might potentially be able to exert undue influence on another person’s estate plan?

Undue influence involves a degree of authority

For one person to unfairly influence the estate planning documents of another, they need a degree of control over the testator. Often, close family members or caregivers can exert undue influence. Spouses children and care professionals could try to secure more of an inheritance than a testator intended to leave for them. They are in a position to make someone’s life miserable by withholding food or medication. They can interfere in someone’s relationships. Some people abuse their authority in pursuit of an inheritance.

For concerned family members to successfully pursue an undue influence claim, they generally need some proof that the testator was vulnerable or dependent on others. They also need proof that the person who benefited from their estate plan had access to or control over the testator.

The burden of proof in such cases falls to the plaintiffs. While it can be difficult to prove that an estate plan is not what someone really intended for their legacy, it is possible to prevail when a will doesn’t conform to someone’s prior wishes. Those who establish the intentional misconduct of a caregiver or family member could ask the courts to set aside a questionable estate plan.

Pursuing probate litigation can potentially help families to stand up for the true wishes of a loved one. Those who question the legitimacy of estate documents may need help evaluating the situation, so seeking personalized guidance is wise.

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