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What is undue influence when it comes to a will?

Wills get contested for many reasons. One is that the deceased lacked the capacity to make the will, and another reason is allegations of forgery. A third scenario, one that is somewhat common, is undue influence.

So, what exactly is undue influence, and could it apply in your situation?

Taking advantage

One way to explain undue influence is that it comes down to taking advantage of someone to the point of taking away her or his free will. It can be more prevalent when the person making a will is elderly, in frail mental and/or physical health, and has significant assets to leave. For example, say that Uncle Sal died a year ago, and Aunt Sally, his widow, soon took up with a younger man who apparently has done his best to isolate her from the rest of the family. Now it seems she has written him into her will at the expense of many other potential heirs. Could that be a case of undue influence? Possibly.

The younger man could have outright coerced Aunt Sally into changing her will, perhaps threatening to injure her if she does not. The undue influence may have been more subtle, maybe with the younger man inventing stories about other family members and what they plan to do with Aunt Sally's property, while he claims he will care for it and respect it. In other words, did Aunt Sally really have free will?

Risk factors

Undue influence tends to occur to people who have at least one of the following risk factors:

  • Isolation
  • Depression
  • Mental illness
  • Dependency
  • Disability
  • Anxiety
  • Newly widowed

All types of people could possibly unduly influence someone in your life. Caretakers, relatives and romantic partners are just a few possibilities.

Proving undue influence

Sometimes, undue influence can be difficult to prove. For example, if you have always had a difficult relationship with your mother, maybe even isolating yourself from her voluntarily, it may make sense that she later decided to leave her property to the cousin who stayed with her in the last year of her life. The exact circumstances of the situation and the ability to prove them are what can make or break an undue influence case.

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