Older adults often talk openly with their family members about what they plan to do with their property when they die. Those with bigger families and more valuable property frequently want their loved ones to know what to expect from their estates. For example, it is very common for people to arrange for their children to receive relatively equal inheritances, and adult children expect the estate plan to reflect those long-declared intentions.
Sometimes, the actual estate planning paperwork that people leave behind when they die seems to contradict the wishes they expressed throughout their lives. Family members then question what inspired those deviations from someone’s previously-stated intentions. Occasionally, family members come to the conclusion that the undue influence of an outside party, possibly a spouse or child who served as a caregiver, impacted the estate plan in question. Families can initiate probate litigation when they suspect undue influence under certain circumstances accordingly.
The situation needs to meet certain conditions
In order for family members to ask the probate courts to intervene in a case involving undue influence, they will need compelling evidence that shows the situation actually involves the undue influence of a third party. To convince the courts of that claim, family members will need to establish that certain elements were present in their family’s situation.
The testator typically needs to have been in a vulnerable position where that outside party could effectively pressure them. Scenarios involving spousal abuse or a caregiver relationship often lend themselves to people being more susceptible to outside pressure. The estate plan will need to benefit someone who was in a position to manipulate, coerce or bully the testator while they are in a vulnerable position.
Finally, there needs to be some evidence that the person accused of exerting undue influence did exactly that. Proof that someone interfered in a person’s communications with others, threatened the testator or otherwise attempted to manipulate their estate planning process will often be necessary for families to convince the courts that someone’s documents are not valid due to undue influence.
Ultimately, discussing the situation that has led people to suspect undue influence at length with an attorney can help families better evaluate whether they have reason to pursue probate litigation.