Contesting a Will on the Basis of Undue Influence
Here's the situation. A testator's executes a will leaving most of her estate to one child or even to a non-relative, to the exclusion of other family members. The beneficiary has spent a lot of time with the testator, especially toward the end of her life, helping with her care and maybe even taking her to the attorney to prepare her will. The disinherited family members believe that the beneficiary has deliberately kept them away to ingratiate herself and get a big inheritance. Is the will invalid because of the beneficiary's conduct?
Clients sometimes ask our Bryan probate litigation lawyers this question. The probate court will invalidate a will if the person challenging it (the contestant) proves that the will was a product of undue influence. The important word is “undue.” A will is not invalid just because someone asked or begged the testator to make a will favoring him or her. To succeed in invalidating a will on the ground of undue influence, the will contestant must prove three things:
- Another person exerted influence over the testator.
- The influence overpowered the testator's mind.
- The testator would not have executed the will in the absence of the influence.
A will can be invalidated as a product of undue influence even if the testator had the mental capacity to make a will. However, undue influence is easier to prove when the testator had some mental impairment or vulnerability, even if the impairment was not significant enough to amount to lack of testamentary capacity. For example, a person in the early stages of dementia may be especially vulnerable to manipulation particularly by someone she trusts, like her daughter or son.
Proving or rebutting a claim of undue influence requires the assistance of a seasoned Bryan probate litigation lawyer. These cases require careful development of all the facts. Expert testimony from a forensic geriatric psychiatrist may even be necessary regarding whether your loved one was vulnerable to undue influence.