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California Probate, Will & Trust Lawyer > Blog > Probate > Spousal Undue Influence in California

Spousal Undue Influence in California

UndueInfluence

Undue influence arises when a person persuades another person’s decisions due to the relationship between the two parties. In the contest of Will writing, undue influence occurs when someone close to a testator (the person creating a Will) influences or pressures the testator to make decisions that don’t reflect their true wishes. Often, undue influence results in outcomes that unfairly benefit the influencer. For example, a person may manipulate or pressure the testator into adding them as a beneficiary in the Will. Some examples of people who may exert undue influence over a testator include family members (such as spouses, children, and siblings), caregivers, financial advisors, legal advisors, religious leaders, and close friends. Undue influence is one of the most common grounds for challenging the validity of a Will in a probate proceeding.

There are some crucial things to note when it comes to alleging spousal undue influence in California. In 2020, California made an undue influence challenge against spouses a bit tougher for Will contestants. Read on to learn more.

Presumption of Undue Influence Against a Surviving Spouse

The “presumption of undue influence against a surviving spouse” implies that if a surviving spouse stands to gain substantially from their deceased spouse’s estate, there is an assumption that the surviving spouse unduly influenced their spouse while they were creating their Will. This legal presumption assumes that the surviving spouse may have manipulated or pressured their deceased spouse into making decisions that unfairly benefit them. The rationale behind this presumption is that spouses often work together in estate planning. This presumption recognizes the inherent vulnerability of spouses. The presumption of undue influence against surviving spouses arises from concerns about the potential for manipulation or coercion in spousal relationships.

California Law Bars This Presumption

In 2020, a law went into effect in California that barred the presumption of undue influence against a surviving spouse. According to California Probate Code Section 21385, at-death transfers between spouses by estate planning tools, including Wills and trusts, cannot be subjected to a presumption of undue influence.

Before this bar, a presumption of undue influence against a surviving spouse could be raised without needing to provide evidence. Once the presumption was raised, the surviving spouse was required to show the court that they did not manipulate or coerce their deceased spouse. They needed to show that the testator made the Will freely and voluntarily.

With this bar, a person must provide evidence to allege that a spouse unduly influenced their deceased spouse. This prohibition prevents spouses from being treated with more suspicion than other heirs or beneficiaries and from being put at a disadvantage.

However, while the inability to raise the presumption of undue influence against a spouse may make it hard to win a Will contest, it does not make winning impossible. Success can be achieved through presenting compelling arguments and evidence. Examples of evidence that can help prove undue influence by a spouse include;

  • Witness testimonies
  • Medical records
  • Communication records
  • Expert testimony
  • Evidence of prior instances of manipulation or control

Contact The Probate Guy

If you have questions or need legal help, contact the dedicated California probate attorney, Robert L. Cohen – The Probate Guy – today to schedule a telephonic consultation.

Southern California Probate Lawyer Serving Orange, Riverside, Anaheim, Whittier & Beyond.

Source:

leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PROB&sectionNum=21385

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