Explaining Undue Influence on Wills in Florida

Sometimes, reading a loved one’s Will can be a shock. They may have entirely neglected close family members, or given it all to someone they didn’t seem that close to in life. In these cases, it is possible that there was undue influence on the Will. Undue influence is a challenge to the validity of a Will, trust, or other estate planning document that seems suspicious.

Before we continue, let’s establish some legal terms:

  • The testator is the person who passed away and whose Will is in question.
  • The contestant is the person who is challenging the validity of the Will.
  • The proponent is the person who helped create the Will which is being contested.

In Florida, undue influence is a valid way to contest a Will. Undue influence is suspected when the proponent of the Will belongs to at least one of these three categories:

  1. Someone who benefits substantially from the Will.
  2. Someone who had a confidential relationship with the testator.
  3. Someone who had an active role in procuring the Will.

The latter refers to someone who made direct requests of the lawyer making the Will or specifically chose the two witnesses required to sign the Will. Typically, these cases of undue influence result from the testator being taken care of. Mental capability is not directly considered when evaluating undue influence, but the sick or elderly may be more vulnerable to being influenced than others. This includes loved ones who have dementia or Alzheimer’s and created or changed their Will while functioning differently than normal.

If some of these scenarios apply to your situation, you may have a case in court. In Florida, undue influence cases are proven with evidence by the shifting burden of proof. This means that at the start of a case, it is the duty of the contestant to provide evidence that the proponent had undue influence over the testator. If that is successfully proven, then it is the duty of the contestant to provide evidence that their relationship with the testator was not undue. If a case has made it through to this point, then the court will rule in the favor of either the contestant or the proponent.

The case may be won in the form of indirect evidence or correspondence since undue influence is not traditionally displayed out in the open around others. If you believe that someone with undue influence over a loved one crafted their Will, it is worth pursuing the case in court. If you have questions about undue influence or other probate litigation, contact Luis E. Barreto & Associates, P.A. today. We are client-oriented and ready to help.

Luis E. Barreto