What is Undue Influence in Estate Planning?

You’ve always been extremely close to your aunt. Having no children of her own, she had said on many occasions that she considered you her daughter. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she informed you that she had named you the executor of her estate.

When your beloved aunt dies, you’re devastated. You know it’s up to you to plan the funeral and make sure her estate is handled. But then you’re given the strange news: Your aunt had made someone else the executor.

How can that be? Your family is not that big, and she was never close to anyone else. And that’s when you learn the executor is your aunt’s caretaker.

Something is not right. What could have happened?

It may be a case of undue influence.

The Signs of Undue Influence

Let’s backtrack and explain what this term means. Undue influence occurs when a vulnerable person is coerced by an individual to leave his/her assets to that individual. The individual can be anyone who holds a position of control over the vulnerable party – a nurse, a caretaker, a family member, even an attorney!

But how do you know if a person was coerced? Here are a few common signs:

  • There are unexpected changes to the person’s estate, such as a change in the will, trust, Power of Attorney, or other legal matters.
  • A change has occurred in the relationship. Did your aunt seem more withdrawn in the past few months? Did she speak more and more about her caretaker when she did talk with you?
  • There was a discrepancy between what the person had said previously.
  • There are hidden financial transactions or legal changes.

How Do You Prove Undue Influence?

So how can you prove that your aunt was under undue influence when she created her estate? It can be a tricky situation, but it is possible. As long as you can prove the following elements:

  • The person was susceptible to someone else’s influence. In this scenario, your aunt was sick and relied heavily on the caretaker.
  • The individual had the opportunity to take advantage of the vulnerable person. As the caretaker, that person could have held off helping your aunt until she changed her estate plans.
  • You will need to show proof that the other party had taken advantage of the situation. Do you have any evidence that proves your aunt was going to make you the executor, such as a previous will?

If you can find evidence of undue influence, your next step would be to contest the validity of the will in probate court. Remember, you need to have substantial proof of undue influence to prove the will is invalid.

A Probate Litigation Attorney Can Help

The probate litigation lawyers at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC have decades of experience in proving undue influence in estate litigation claims. We can serve as personal representatives, trustees, and executors during the process of probate administration and will make sure your loved one’s final wishes are met.

If you believe undue influence played a part in the creation of a loved one’s will, don’t delay. Contact Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC today for more information.

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