Understanding the Issue of Undue Influence in Estate Planning
It is common for a person to be manipulated by another when they are vulnerable or dependent on that person. Undue influence is performed on a sensitive person, which disrupts their natural impulse to provide for their family or specific family members, leaving most of their assets to the person manipulating them instead.
Family members may not find out about undue influence until after their loved one has passed away. The person that influenced the deceased had a strong motivation to make such changes, and often the person influenced did not go through their general attorney for estate planning in San Diego.
The Definition of Undue Influence
Anyone that suspects undue influence from an estate plan will contest the will in probate court after the testator’s death. This is done even if a regular probate court session is not completed.
However, the complaining relative must prove that the testator was under the undue influence at the time they created the new estate plan. To prove such, they must:
- Show that the estate plan leaves the property in a way that no one would expect, such as not leaving anything to close family members.
- The individual that made the will was trusted by the testator or dependent on them.
- There was an illness or frailty that made the testator highly susceptible to undue influence; such as suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.
- The manipulator took advantage of the testator and benefited from the new will.
Unsolicited Opinions are Not Undue Influence
Even if a family member contacts the testator and offers their unsolicited opinions to sway the testator from leaving their estate to other family members, this is not undue influence. Instead, it is an opinion from that person. Even if the testator were to follow their advice, the will’s grounds for the contest would not be valid.
The fact that another person influenced the testator is not enough to question a will.
Proving Undue Influence
If a loved one suspects undue influence, it is best that they speak with an attorney that does estate planning in San Diego for assistance. To prove their case, they must show that there was undue influence, but in this instance, there is no way to question the deceased. Those that knew the testator well, however, can testify. Healthcare providers may also testify about the testator’s state of mind and any illnesses.
The relationship between the deceased and the influencer must be established, and the family member contesting the will must prove that the influencer gained in some way from influencing the testator to assign them as a beneficiary.
Taking Steps to Avoid Contests
Those that wish to avoid the battle over undue influence can take steps with their attorney for estate planning in San Diego. To avoid disputes, they should discuss their estate plan with family members so that it is not a shock. Also, any unexpected changes to the will should be explained in the document.