Some families are shocked when they read the will of a deceased loved one after their passing, and it does not look at all like what they were expecting to see. It’s true that people can dispose of property however they want to in their wills. However, when the contents of a will do not seem like they came from the mind of the person who wrote it, it’s possible that the testator was unduly influenced by someone else when they wrote the will.
A will that gives a disproportionate share of the deceased’s assets to one or two family members or to someone who isn’t part of the family makes sense in some situations, but not in others. For example, a person might bequeath more of their estate to their children who provided care to them towards the end of their life while leaving less to their other children who could not or who chose not to help them. In different situations, there is no apparent reason for a disproportionate bequest, or for the exclusion of some or all of the deceased’s relatives from their will. In those situations, it’s possible that the deceased got pressured by one or more people to write their will the way that they wrote it. If it seems like this may have happened, people who are interested parties can contest the will by alleging undue influence. If a court finds that an undue influence was present when the testator made their will, the court can invalidate the will.
While undue influence is easy to define, it is hard to prove. The testator, the only person who could speak to how they felt when they wrote the will, is deceased. In the absence of that information, the parties who seek to invalidate the will bear the burden of proving that undue influence was present when the testator made their will. They can do that by providing evidence which supports a conclusion that the three components of undue influence were present when the will was made.
The first element of undue influence is that the impact of one or more people’s influence on the testator was so overpowering that they were unable to exercise free will as they made their will. The second component of a successful claim of undue influence is evidence that the person or people accused of exerting the undue influence would benefit from the will as it is written more than they would have benefited otherwise. The third and final piece of a successful undue influence claim is evidence that supports a conclusion that the decedent acted in a manner that is inconsistent with how they would have acted if that influence had not been present.
If you plan to contest a will on the grounds of undue influence, review what you know to assess whether such a claim is likely to succeed. Think about whether the deceased was in a vulnerable position, such as being dependent on the care of a relative or caregiver. Ask yourself whether the testator was easily confused or forgetful around the time that they drafted their will. A third thing to consider is whether the will makes sense, given the behavior and personality of the testator during their lifetime. If you feel as though your deceased loved one made their will under undue influence, schedule an initial consultation with Wichita attorney J. Joseph Weber. Please call our office at 316-265-7802, or contact us through our website.