A will is a legal document that states how a person's assets will be distributed after their death. In order for a will to be valid, it must be properly executed and signed by the testator. However, there are situations where a will may be challenged on the grounds that it is invalid. One common reason that a will may be suspected to be invalid is undue influence.
What is Undue Influence?
When a person signs a will, they are indicating that they wish for their property to be distributed in a certain way upon their death. However, there are situations in which someone may attempt to influence the testator's decision in order to receive a more significant share of the estate. This is called undue influence. Undue influence can take many forms, but it typically involves persuasion, coercion, or manipulation. If it can be shown that undue influence was used to convince the testator to sign the will, then the court may deem the will invalid.
What Constitutes Undue Influence?
Undue influence is often challenging to prove; however, the Virginia Supreme Court states that a presumption of undue influence may present itself if any of the following are applicable:
- Confidential Relationship: A beneficiary was involved in a fiduciary relationship or one based on dependence.
- Lack of Testamentary Capacity: The testator lacked the appropriate mindset to create and execute a will on their own accord.
- Original Will Intentions: The testator may have created a previous will with different intentions. The new will in question may benefit the individual believed to have coerced the testator.
New Legislation is Helping
In early 2021, the Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 1123: Will Contest; Presumption of Undue Influence. Introduced by Obenshain Law Group attorney and Senator Mark D. Obenshain, the bill calls for the production of evidence by the party accused of undue influence to rebut the presumption that the will was the product of undue influence. This means that the defendant would have to prove that the testator was acting with appropriate testamentary capacity and that no relationship could have persuaded the decedent to make a testamentary gift in their favor.
Will Contest Attorneys in Harrisonburg
At Obenshain Law Group, our will contest attorneys have extensive experience handling cases involving undue influence and suspected will invalidity. If you suspect that a will is the product of undue influence or that it is invalid, for other reasons, we can help you understand your legal options and navigate the probate process.
If you believe a will was created under undue influence, contact us today at (540) 318-7360 or fill out our form online for a free consultation.