What Does ‘Undue Influence’ Actually Mean in the Context of Estate Planning?

When anyone leaves a Last Will and Testament, the chances are extremely high that their loved ones know what the document will say. After all, effective estate planning involves setting expectations for your heirs and beneficiaries. 

On rare occasions, though, loved ones of the decedent are surprised at the terms of the Will. For instance, what made the testator change their mind about dividing the estate between the children and grandchildren? The new caretaker, who only entered the picture a few months before the testator’s death, made off with a large chunk of the estate—more than some family members. 

That scenario, more or less, is not all that uncommon. When people who really knew the decedent are genuinely surprised at the terms of the Will, it is natural to suspect that someone exerted undue influence on the testator/decedent.

Signs of Undue Influence

A decedent whose Will has puzzling terms is a common result of undue influence. Here are some possible indications that a loved one is being unduly influenced:

  • The testator has diminished mental capacity
  • The testator is being isolated from loved ones
  • A caretaker or companion, who was otherwise unknown to the family, suddenly begins spending a lot of time with the testator
  • The testator claims emotional, psychological, or physical abuse.

Contesting a Will

Not just anybody can challenge the validity of a Will based on undue influence or any other reason. The challenger must be an interested party, which means he or she either stands to inherit under Florida intestacy laws or is mentioned in the Will. 

After the testator passes away, the executor or personal representative of the decedent’s estate files legal papers to begin the legal process known as probate. Somewhere in the process—before the probate assets get distributed to heirs—interested parties will get a notice that the Will has been entered into probate. Upon service of this legal notice, those eligible to contest the Will generally have 90 days to do so.

If you contest the Will in time, the really difficult part begins. You will need to convince the court that the decedent created, amended, or revoked a previously created Will because of undue influence. Again, this is not easy. You will need to prove that numerous conditions were present in the case of your loved one. At this stage, an attorney’s help is critical. 

Conclusion

Wills have the potential to cause deep rifts within a family. It’s common for one or two family members to be bitter about their relatively meager inheritances. However, undue influence in the context of Wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents is on another level. It goes well beyond dissatisfaction of your inheritance, which is why having an experienced Florida probate attorney is imperative. Our team stands ready to help you. Call us today at (305) 227-4030 to discuss your needs.