Undue influence is a type of fraud that occurs when an individual, often the one who has a confidential or fiduciary relationship with a will-maker, coerces or pressures them into creating or changing a will in a manner that benefits the influencer. The influencer must exert such great pressure over the will-maker that the ability of the will-maker to make their own decisions is essentially destroyed.
Often, the will-maker’s family is not aware that their loved one was influenced by an unscrupulous individual until after their family member’s death. Because of this, it is difficult to prove that the will-maker was forced by someone wishing to take advantage of them.
Contesting the Will in Court
If family members suspect that a late-in-life will is the product of undue influence, they will likely need to take the matter to court to attempt to have the will invalidated.
In some cases, the circumstances are so suspicious that undue influence can be presumed. For example, if a person in a fiduciary or confidential relationship, such as a caregiver or the holder of a power of attorney, benefits from a new will signed by a will-maker who is “of feeble mind” and an old will existed expressing different intent, this may be sufficient to give rise to a presumption that the new will was the product of undue influence.
In other instances, it may be difficult to prove that undue influence affected a person’s will. A person may choose to change their will after having discussions with a family member, but the family member may not have intended to benefit from the updated will.
To prove undue influence, family members must show that:
- the assets were not left as expected or as the will-maker had previously discussed;
- a confidential or fiduciary relationship existed between the will-maker and the influencer;
- the will-maker’s physical or mental health was such that they were susceptible to influence;
- the influencer benefitted from the terms of the will.
In most cases, there must be still other suspicious circumstances or evidence of undue influence.
For Help Contesting a Will, Call Obenshain Law Group
If you believe a person in a trusted relationship with your loved one exerted undue influence or pressured them to sign a will that benefitted them, you need a competent and experienced will contest and estate litigation attorney. Call Obenshain Law Group to discuss your case. We work with families across Virginia to evaluate and handle will contest cases.
For a free consultation, call us at (540) 318-7360 or contact us online.