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Will contests: how can you prove undue influence?

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2023 | Probate Litigation |

Parties to an estate would want to have a smooth and speedy probate administration. However, if an heir or beneficiary finds that there was an undue influence when the testator created their will, they would most likely contest the will’s validity, even if it means having a lengthier probate duration.

Unfortunately, unlike proving a testator’s lack of testamentary capacity to create a will, undue influence can be more challenging the substantiate. Nevertheless, it is still possible.

What are the elements of undue influence?

By technical definition, there is an undue influence when the following circumstances are present:

  • The testator was in a vulnerable state: Undue influence is more common when a testator is a senior citizen, a person with a disability or any individual who is excessively vulnerable.
  • The influencer had power over the testator: Individuals guilty of undue influence are those who hold power over the testator. They usually have a fiduciary or confidential relationship with the victim, like a medical care provider, financial advisor or family member.
  • There is apparent behavior to control the testator: Many times, influencers employ overt acts that indicate undue influence, such as persuading the testator to make hasty changes to property rights or isolating them from their family members.
  • The acts result in unjust results: When the guilty party succeeds in influencing the testator, it usually manifests in the terms of the will. When there is undue influence, the will would be established in a way that would be unjust or detrimental to the testator, their properties or the heirs and beneficiaries.

Undue influence is difficult to prove with direct evidence. Hence, challenging parties usually use circumstantial evidence. This is possible by trying to piece together the elements mentioned above while considering other available facts and circumstances.

While there is no set way to prove undue influence, establishing these elements can have substantial weight in will contests.