When talking about estates and wills, “undue influence” means someone took advantage of the testator’s declining physical or mental state to get something they wanted — usually the bulk of that person’s estate.
In the movies, it’s always a young caretaker who worms their way into the affections of a frail, isolated senior. They get that senior to write out a new will and largely disinherit their relatives — to everyone’s shock and dismay. While that does certainly happen, seniors can also be subject to undue influence from people inside the family.
If your mother or father passed away and their will heavily favors someone in an unexpected way, how can you tell if undue influence is involved? Look for the following signs:
- The terms of the will were a surprise. If your mother always promised you her rings, for example, you may be justifiably shocked to hear that they were left to her visiting nurse. If your father always treated you and your siblings equally, it’s shocking that he’d leave his entire estate to your eldest sister.
- The surprise beneficiary seems to be heavily involved in estate planning. You may think, for example, that it’s hardly surprising that your father left most of his estate to your younger brother since your brother arranged for the attorney who wrote the will and took Dad to the appointment.
- Your deceased relative was fairly isolated before death. Maybe your stepmother wouldn’t even let you speak to your father in the months before his death, insisting that he was too tired to talk. Now that he’s gone, you’re surprised to find that you’ve been cut out of his will — to your stepmother’s benefit.
- Your deceased relative’s mental or physical health was waning before death. Someone who is physically or mentally struggling is more susceptible to undue influence than someone who isn’t.
Generally speaking, if you have suspicions about how an estate was divided, it’s wisest to seek legal counsel immediately. If you wait to contest an estate, you could be facing an uphill battle.