Published 22 Mar 2018
Author: Richele Nelsen
Writing a will is an essential step when estate planning. Setting out who you want to receive your assets in the event of your death is the best way to ensure your final wishes are appropriately carried out.
However, wills aren't ironclad and there are a number of circumstances in which a loved one of the deceased may wish to dispute the document. One common cause of contention is whether or not a person was under 'undue influence' at the time they wrote the will.
Let's explore what this term means and how it can affect the validity of a will.
Understanding undue influence
Undue influence refers to situations where a testator - the person drafting a will - is under pressure to write the document in such a way that it goes against their real intentions.
Threats, trickery, deceit, blackmail and flattery may all be methods of unduly influencing a will maker. The most common reason why individuals employ this kind of coercion is so they can benefit as a beneficiary from the testator's estate.
This is often at the expense of existing beneficiaries, which may lead to inheritance disputes from concerned family members and friends of the deceased.
A judge can overrule an individual's will if they believe undue influence has occurred, but how can plaintiffs prove their loved one was coerced?
Building a case for undue influence
Undue influence is a big allegation to make, and the burden of proof is on the accuser. The courts will expect a plaintiff to put forward a convincing case.
Witnesses to the production or signing of the will may be able to provide evidence if they believe the testator was under pressure from someone who stood to benefit.
Another warning sign could be when the deceased leaves the entirety of their estate to a single person, particularly if that beneficiary is a new acquaintance or unknown to other friends and family.
Similarly, loved ones may be suspicious if the deceased's most recent will is markedly different to previous wills or their stated intentions.
There is no guarantee that these factors will sway a judge, which is why it's important to enlist the services of an experienced contesting wills lawyer to gather evidence and build a strong case.
Contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Will Dispute Lawyers if you believe a friend or family member was under undue influence when making estate-planning decisions.