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Will Contests, A Primer on Undue Influence

Undue InfluenceWhen you die, you can’t take it with you. All assets you own pass at your death to someone and this is typically done with a Will. Because of sibling rivalries, family disputes, and greed, some of these Wills lead to Will Contests. Will Contests can be based on many different theories, but one of the most common is Undue Influence.

What is Undue Influence?
All Undue Influence Will Contests are based on a person challenging an offered Will. The Will is often being presented by a family member, caregiver, or new love interest who was unexpectedly given most if not all the estate. The challenger is usually the person whose share was eliminated or reduced.

One of the basic tenants of a valid Will is that it was signed voluntarily. At death, other than certain obligations to spouses, a person has the right to include or exclude whomever they wish. If another person applies pressure to influence the signer to favor them in a way they otherwise would not have been favored then the Will is invalid.

The judge must find that the pressure applied and the changes made to the Will were a direct result of this pressure. It can be thought that the Will now represents the Will of the person applying the pressure, not the signer. Because the Will no longer reflects the signer’s wishes, the Will is invalid.

Factors the Judge Considers In an Undue Influence Case.
The judge listens to the evidence and is looking for specific things. To find a Will the product of Undue Influence, the judge must believe that the influencer had the time and opportunity to apply the influence and that the person was of diminished capacity, subject to being influenced by this pressure. The person applying the pressure must be benefited. The person challenging the Will must have been harmed.

The existence of diminished capacity is vital. Typically, the challenger must hire a doctor to review medical records and produce a report concluding that the deceased was susceptible to undue influence because of diminished capacity. This doctor might also have to testify in court. The person who supports the Will then strive to find a doctor who will say the opposite. Access to medical records is usually gained during the cases’ discovery portion.

The Results of a Successful Will Contest.
If the judge rules that Undue Influence caused challenged will, then the Will is void. The deceased’s prior will becomes the Last will. If there was no previous will, then the deceased’s assets pass under the Rules of Intestacy. Typically, during the Will Contest the estate’s assets are held pending the litigation results. Having your experienced Will Contest Lawyer secure the assets is essential.

Appealing The Results.
After the judge rules, there is a short amount of time for an appeal. Appeals to a higher court is a specialized legal area of legal practice. Most Will Contest Lawyers have never done an appeal, so consult with someone who has a proven track record.

In conclusion, Undue Influence is one of many ways to challenge a will. For more information, please read my more detailed article, Will Contests Explained for the Non-Lawyer.

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