A Brief Introduction to Undue Influence

Undue influence in the context of estate planning is essentially the manipulation of a vulnerable testator by someone who wants to profit from that vulnerability. Accusations of undue influence generally arise in disputes over the validity of a will, particularly if the person who drew it up was ill, elderly, or otherwise dependent on others at the time. The alleged manipulator is accused of interfering with the person’s natural inclination to provide for family members in the will and persuading them to leave assets to the manipulator instead.

Who Are the Manipulators?

Undue influence can be exercised by anyone who is in a position to control a vulnerable individual’s finances or living situation. People often accused of this manipulation are relatives, caretakers, and even attorneys.

Examples of Undue Influence

Common examples of undue influence include:

  • Persuading the testator to leave family members out of a will, even though the members in question have always maintained a healthy and positive relationship with them.
  • Getting the person to alter their will so that the manipulator benefits the most from it.
  • Isolating the person from their friends and family to create the impression that they can only depend on the manipulator, who is often a caretaker.

Family members who suspect undue influence after the testator has passed away must contest the will or other estate planning document in probate court. If they succeed in proving their allegations of undue influence, the judge could declare that the will or document is invalid.

Proving Undue Influence

To convince a judge that undue influence was behind a will or other document, you must prove that:

  • The will distributes the decedent’s estate in a way that is both unexpected and unexplained. Examples include cutting out close family members in favor of a caretaker or someone the person had known for a brief period of time.
  • The testator was especially dependent upon or had a confidential relationship with the party who allegedly exercised undue influence.
  • The testator was susceptible to undue influence because of advanced illness or frailty.
  • The alleged manipulator took advantage of the testator and benefited from the will accordingly

You can help your case by gathering supporting statements from people who knew the testator as well as their relationship with the person who is being charged with exerting undue influence.

What to Do

If you are worried about a vulnerable loved one being taken advantage of, it is important to act now instead of fight the damage later. If that person is unable to make rational estate planning decisions, it might be necessary to get a guardian or conservator appointed.

For more information about dealing with undue influence in a relative’s estate planning process, please contact Luis E. Barreto & Associates, P.A. today. We will help you fight to prevent your loved one’s assets from being unfairly taken by someone who is not rightfully entitled to them.

Luis E. Barreto