Unscrupulous people often exploit the elderly and sick through undue influence. The litigation team at Crain & Wooley explains what constitutes undue influence, how it can be proven, and the process to contest a will.
Understanding Undue Influence
The American Bar Association defines undue influence as "excessive persuasion that overrides another's free will and results in inequity." Many older people are targeted through deceit of this type, leading to their will not reflecting their true wishes. Undue influence cases are typically seen in probate courts when guardianships, conservatorships, disputed wills, and trusts are filed. The following are some examples of undue influence:
● Threatening a person until they sign a document
● A caretaker manipulating a senior into adding them to a will
● Isolating and managing the finances of an incapacitated partner
● A family member controlling an elderly person's access to information
How to Prove Undue Influence
If a testator signs a will under coercion, manipulation, duress, or influence, the will's validity could be challenged in court. Undue influence requires three elements to be established about the influencer:
- They received some substantial benefits from the will;
- Had a close and trusting relationship with the creator of the will; and
- Actively procured the will.
As soon as these are proven, the burden of proof shifts to the beneficiary to prove that undue influence did not occur.
Because we cannot know what someone who is no longer with us was thinking when they made their will, it is often difficult to prove undue influence. If you have an experienced probate attorney on your side, you will be able to dispute the document's validity in court.
How to Contest a Will Based on Undue Influence
If you believe a will was created due to undue influence, you can file a petition with the court to have it invalidated. The first step is to hire an attorney specializing in probate law with experience handling these cases. Once you have an attorney, they will file a complaint with the court and notify the other beneficiaries of the will. The court will then set a hearing date, and both sides will present their evidence. After hearing both sides, the court will decide whether or not to invalidate the will.
Your Next Step
Texas has a very short time limit to dispute a will. It is imperative to act quickly at the first sign of foul play in creating a will. We have over 15 years of experience helping clients contest wills and can also help you.
You can schedule a consultation with our team today by contacting us through our website or calling us at (972) 945-1610.