Undue influence in contested wills and trusts is a serious legal issue that can arise when someone exerts improper pressure on the individual who has made a will or given a legacy (the ‘testator’). When someone takes advantage of the testator’s lack of knowledge or incapacity it can often lead to changes in their estate plans that may not reflect their true wishes and instead manifest the wishes of the influencer. Understanding real-life examples of undue influence is critical in navigating probate laws and the courts when it comes to estate contests and trust disputes.
Real Life Examples
When someone unduly influences a testator, they are taking advantage of a vulnerable individual. A classic example of this is when a caretaker influences an elderly person in the preparation of a new will. The undue influencer may control access by isolating them from interacting with friends and family. In some instances, the undue influencer may even go to great lengths to prevent the disclosure of location, making it difficult for others to intervene.
Furthermore, the undue influencer might exploit the testator’s vulnerability, ensuring that they do not fully comprehend the consequences of the changes made to their estate plan. This can include taking advantage of an elderly person’s diminished mental capacity, exploiting their confusion or capitalizing on their dependence on the influencer for care. In extreme cases the undue influencer may resort to controlling or even violent behavior to coerce the testator or trustor to make changes against the person’s will.
These real-life scenarios illustrate the gravity of undue influence in the context of wills and trusts, highlighting the potential for manipulation and abuse in vulnerable situations.
How Do You Prove Undue Influence?
Proving undue influence is a challenging but necessary task in estate litigation. Courts typically consider various factors when assessing whether undue influence has occurred.
- Testator’s Wishes: It is essential to establish the testator’s true wishes before the alleged undue influence occurred. This can involve presenting evidence of the testator’s prior intentions or the circumstances surrounding the creation of the will or trust, and an evaluation of whether the changes follow the natural objects of the persons bounty
- Health and Age: Both the physical and mental health of the testator or trustor can play a crucial role. Poor mental or physical health, together with advanced age may raise questions concerning susceptibility of a testator or trustor to external pressures.
- Persuading and Convincing: Examining the opportunities and tactics employed by the alleged influencer is crucial. Evidence of persuasive or coercive behavior, such as manipulation, threats or isolation, will provide support for the case for undue influence.
The death of a loved one is a fraught and emotional time. Disputes over inheritance often occur during this time of distress and vulnerability. Contesting a Will or Trust can add uncertainty to an already difficult time; it’s also a topic around which there is a lot of confusion.
Understanding the dynamics of undue influence, the factors courts consider, and how to avoid a trust dispute will be vital for both legal professionals and individuals involved in estate planning.
If you suspect the Will or Trust does not reflect the true intentions of the person making the will (the ‘testator’), or the will hasn’t been followed (‘executed’) correctly, we strongly advise you to seek expert legal advice early on.
The Kiken Group has successfully contested Wills and Trusts, recovering client’s beneficial interests in Trusts and inheritance and damage. With the utmost respect and care, The Kiken Group assists its clients in navigating to a resolution of estate planning problems, for individuals, families and their related entities.