Undue influence is one theory of wrongdoing in estate litigation. An estate litigation attorney will tell you that undue influence is a tough argument to make, even if it feels like that's what happened. Let's look at what undue influence is, some of the challenges in arguing about it, and how you might be able to present a case using it.
What Is Undue Influence?
The legal notion of undue influence centers on the responsibility everyone has to not take advantage of mentally or emotionally disadvantaged people. A classic example of undue influence would involve a caregiver for an elder with dementia. The caregiver encourages the person to rewrite their will to include the caregiver. Worse, the caregiver tells the grantor of the will to exclude everyone else and effectively give the caregiver the whole estate.
What makes this example undue influence in the eyes of the law is that the care recipient had dementia. They were mentally incapable of rendering reasoned judgments about modifying their estate. The caregiver took advantage of the situation to capture financial benefits.
Not every change to a will is necessarily the product of undue influence. So long as they are of sound mind at the time, grantors have the right in American law to declare almost anything they want with their estate. Consequently, an estate litigation lawyer pursuing an undue influence case will tend to focus on the grantor's state of mind.
Consider a version of the example where the grantor did not have dementia but had daily medical care needs. Perhaps one family member diligently took on the caregiver rule. The grantor became angry because no one else bothered. In that scenario, the estate stands a good chance of surviving litigation, especially if the grantor expressed their feelings about the care situation.
Arguing Undue Influence
Mental incapacity at the time of the will's creation or amendment is the strongest argument. Similarly, you could present evidence of the exercise of undue influence if the influencer stated their interest in affecting the disposition estate.
An estate litigation attorney may also look for extreme and unexplained inconsistencies between older and current versions of the will. If the grantor started cutting out demonstrably beloved heirs, for example, that could be a sign that something worrisome happened.
Also, there may be evidence of a rapid mental decline even if the grantor didn't have a dementia diagnosis. Medical reports, testimony, letters, social media posts, and other evidence may support this claim.
To learn more, contact an estate litigation attorney in your area.