In order to create a valid will, the testator (person making the will) must have the mental capacity to understand the nature and effect of their actions. Undue influence is one factor that can invalidate a will. Undue influence occurs when someone uses their position of power to pressure the testator into creating or changing their will in a way that benefits the influencer. This often occurs when the testator and a beneficiary are involved in a confidential relationship.
Defining Confidential Relationships
A confidential relationship is defined as a special relationship between two people in which one person is significantly more vulnerable than the other, and the other person occupies a position of trust. In the context of wills, where this term frequently appears, a confidential relationship is one in which the testator is reliant on the influencer or especially susceptible to influence from them because they occupy a position of trust or confidence.
Confidential relationships can exist in various forms, giving rise to many examples of undue influence:
Child and Parent
When a confidential relationship exists between a child and parent lacking testamentary capacity and the parent is dependent upon the child for care, a child may exert undue influence over a parent's will. For instance, a child may take advantage of a parent's physical or mental weakness to convince the parent to change the will in the child's favor. Sometimes, a child may mislead a parent into believing that the change is in the parent's best interests.
Caretaker and Elder
The confidential relationship between a caretaker and elder is one of trust. The caretaker is entrusted with the responsibility of providing care and support to the elder, and the elder trusts the caretaker to provide this help competently and professionally. A caretaker may exert undue influence over an elder's will if the caretaker has a fiduciary relationship with the elder or if the elder is especially vulnerable.
Professional and Elder
Often times elders become dependent upon or trust professionals in their lives, such as attorneys, financial planners, or tax advisers. These persons have a duty to act in the best interest of the elder, but sometimes they may abuse the elder’s trust and make changes to the elder’s estate plans for their own benefit, rather than that of the elder.
Contesting a Will for Undue Influence
A will may be contested on the grounds that the testator was unduly influenced by someone in a confidential relationship with them. If it can be shown that the beneficiary breached their duty of trust, then the will may be invalid on the grounds of undue influence.
Shenandoah Valley Will Contest Attorneys
Obenshain Law Group specializes in will contest law, and our attorneys have a wealth of experience in this area. We can help you to navigate the complex legal landscape and make sure that your rights are protected. We have a proven track record of success in contest cases, and we will work tirelessly to get the best possible result for you.
If you believe you have grounds to contest a will, contact us at (540) 318-7360 or fill out our form online.