Undue Influence: What It Is And How To Prove It
As probate attorneys, our duty is not only to help clients prepare wills and trusts or with the probate process. Probate attorneys also assist clients in checking the validity of wills and challenging invalid wills. An example of an invalid will is one made under undue influence.
Proving undue influence by the use of direct evidence is challenging; however, an experienced probate attorney can prove undue influence using the facts and circumstances surrounding the making of a will. Therefore, if you need help proving undue influence, it would be best for you to reach out to a qualified attorney.
What Is Undue Influence?
According to section 15610.70, undue influence refers to “excessive persuasion, which causes another individual to act or to refrain from acting by overcoming the individual’s free will, resulting in inequity.”
Mostly, undue influence is exerted on elderly adults when they are making crucial decisions.
Proving Undue Influence in California
If you believe that a living or deceased loved one was under undue influence at the time they signed their will, you should know that the burden of proof rests upon you. Therefore, working with a skilled attorney is crucial. As already mentioned, gathering direct evidence to support your claim might prove challenging. However, if you can establish the four elements outlined in section 15610.70, you might be able to convince the court that the will you are contesting was made under undue influence.
Below are the four elements you need to prove.
First, to determine whether a will was made under undue influence, the court will consider a victim’s vulnerability. You can provide evidence of vulnerability by providing, among many others, proof that the victim was incapacitated, mentally impaired, emotionally distressed, injured, or ill at the time of will signing. On top of proving this, you will need to show that the influencer knew or should at least have known about the victim’s vulnerability.
Influencer’s Apparent Authority
Second, the court will need evidence of the influencer’s apparent authority to determine whether a will was made under undue influence. An undue influencer is an individual who can influence a testator to act in a particular manner because of the authority they (the influencer) have over them (the testator). People with such power include, but are not limited to;
- Family members
- Care providers
- Spiritual advisers
- Health care professionals
Actions or Tactics Used by the Undue Influencer
Third, the court needs to consider the actions or tactics the influencer used on the victim before deciding whether a will was made under undue influence. Actions and tactics used by undue influencers include, but are not limited to;
- Controlling victims’ medication
- Use of intimidation
- Isolating victims
Equity of the Result
Lastly, to determine whether a will was made under undue influence, the court will consider the equity of the result. To prove this element, you can, for instance, consider the relationship of the victim and the influencer. The case of a short-term caregiver suddenly becoming a beneficiary of a testator’s estate, for example, is suspicious.
It is important to note that evidence of an inequitable result, without more, is inadequate to prove undue influence.
Contact the Probate Guy for Help
If you need help proving that a will was made under undue influence, contact dedicated California probate attorney Robert L. Cohen – The Probate Guy – today to schedule a free telephonic consultation.