While most people create estate planning documents that genuinely reflect their desires, some estate planning documents have a dark side to them – the taint of undue influence. Unfortunately, some people scheme and manipulate individuals who are working on creating their estate plans to gain from those individuals benefits that they would not receive from them without that manipulation. The resulting estate plans are tainted with the undue influence of someone other than the person whose signature is on them and do not reflect the free will of the person who signed them.
When the possibility of undue influence comes to light, the party or parties who suspect undue influence bears the burden of proving that such influence existed. The requirements for establishing undue influence are strict, demanding much more than the existence of a relationship between the settlor or testator and the party or parties suspected of influencing them and suspicious circumstances under which influence could have been exerted. The evidence that the contestants provide must illustrate a situation in which the executor or testator was obliged to accept and act on the will of another person instead of their own free will, with the result being something different than the executor or testator would have chosen to do on their own.
The late Pat Bowlen, the former owner of the Denver Broncos, established a trust twenty years ago with the hope that one of his children would someday choose to own the team. In 2009, Bowlen revised his trust and estate plan. The revised plan gave a board of trustees the power and authority to select the next controlling owner of the team. The trustees have been running the team since 2014 when Bowlen stepped down from that role. The trustees rejected a request from Beth Bowlen Wallace, claiming that she unqualified for the position of controlling owner of the Broncos and not capable of running the team. Later, one of Bowlen’s other daughters approached the trustees about becoming the controlling owner of the organization. The trustees created a management position for that daughter, Brittany, to take on this coming November as a step in the direction of becoming the team’s controlling owner.
Beth Bowlen Wallace, the daughter whose ownership bid was rejected by the trustees, along with her sister Amie Bowlen Klemmer, have filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the 2009 revision to their father’s trust, the document from which the trustees derive their decision-making power and authority. As part of their challenge to the trust, Wallace and Klemmer claim that Pat Bowlen was subject to undue influence when he revised his trust in 2009. The success or failure of this portion of their challenge to the validity of the trust rests on the quality of the evidence that they, with the aid of their attorney, provide to the court. As I mentioned before, the bar for a successful challenge based on undue influence is very high, and not everyone who brings a challenge based on undue influence can meet it.
If you or someone you love have any questions about estate planning in Kansas, call Wichita attorney J. Joseph Weber at (316) 265-7802, or contact us on the internet to schedule a consultation.