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How to Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know! 

If you believe that your loved one made changes to their estate plan due to undue influence, you may be able to have those changes overturned if you can prove that your loved one was under undue influence at the time they made them. Call Hess-Verdon, Orange County’s top probate lawyer, at (949) 706-7300. This article will explain some of the most common examples of undue influence and explain how to prove undue influence. 

How to Prove Undue Influence

What is Undue Influence?

Undue influence refers to the situation where somebody uses their power or authority over a person to coerce them into making a gift or signing a will or trust in favor of the person who has used their power or authority.

How Does Undue Influence Work?

Undue influence usually works as follows: somebody.

  • Has a confidential relationship with an elderly person
  • Actively participates in getting an older adult to sign estate planning documents that give substantial gifts to themselves.
  • Stands to receive substantial gifts from those documents.

Thus, if you can show that the following three factors were present at the time of the will signing, then you can successfully claim undue influence:

What Factors Can Contribute to Undue Influence?

Judges consider several factors in determining whether a will or trust was procured through undue influence. These factors include:

The beneficiary (or person standing to gain) had an active and dominant role in preparing or executing the estate planning instrument. 

For example, suppose you have been caring for your grandmother full time for many years, and she recently changed her will to leave you all her assets after initially leaving them equally to her children. In that case, this could be considered undue influence. 

The family is more likely to consider undue influence if your grandmother revised her will after leaving it to you or shortly before her death. There was a confident-fiduciary relationship between the person changing the will or trust and someone who benefited from the changes. The person who changed their will or trust was old or sick or had limited education and inexperience with handling money.

New changes to the will document disinherited the persons who would have taken under the old estate plan.

The time between making the trust and Will and changing it was short or pressured. In other words, there was an opportunity for undue influence to occur before the amendment.

What if a person was named a trustee in the person’s estate planning documents?

The issue is whether or not the trustee influenced the decedent to make that designation. It may be more likely that influence occurred if there is no other apparent reason why the decedent chose that person over someone else, such as a close family member or friend.

Does it matter when the deceased signed the estate planning document?

Generally, the closer the time of death the document’s signing, the more likely it is to be challenged on undue influence grounds. A will or trust signed within six months of death is presumed to have been procured by fraud, duress, or undue influence unless proven otherwise with clear and convincing evidence.

Does it matter who the beneficiaries are and their relationship to the decedent?

Yes. If a person in question is not close to family members or friends and appears out of nowhere at the end of life, that can raise suspicion that there was undue influence. 

What if the decedent has advanced dementia or other similar conditions?

If you believe that someone took advantage of your loved one because of advanced dementia or other similar conditions, you can request that the court appoints a conservator. The court will then decide whether it is necessary to take control away from the decedent’s family member.

Tips for Winning an Undue Influence Case

The following are some tips for winning an undue influence case:

Get a trust litigation lawyer. Most lawyers will take such cases on contingency, meaning that you only pay them if they win your case for you.

Stay calm and rational. Most people involved in these types of cases are angry because they have been mistreated by someone they trusted. If you want to be successful in court, however, you need to be able to state your case without becoming emotional or angry yourself. 

Consider whether it was undue influence or just coercion. The critical issue here is whether the person had the total capacity or not when the undue influence occurred.

Look for evidence of isolation.

Suppose your family member was isolated from other family members by the perpetrator. That could be evidence that the perpetrator wanted to keep others from discovering their efforts to persuade your family member to change their estate plan.

Look for changes after an illness.

If your family member became ill and then changed their estate plan, that can be evidence that someone took advantage of your family member when they could not think clearly or act in their own best interests.

What happens if I can prove that undue influence occurred?

Suppose the court finds that a person exercised undue influence over a decedent in connection with the decedent’s will, trust, or other instruments. As a result of that undue influence, the decedent made a disposition of property in their estate plan that they would not have made except for the undue influence. In that case, the court may do any of the following: 

First, the court can invalidate a will or trust. Invalidating a will or trust generally means that the will or trust is treated as though it had never existed. The person who would have received assets under the will or trust will not receive them. Instead, the assets usually go to other people named in previous wills and trusts or heirs under California law. 

Second, the court can order specific items to be distributed to certain people named in the will or trust. For example, a house might be given to Person A and a car to Person B. 

Third, the court can change how items are distributed under the will or trust while still leaving most of it intact. In other words, only one or two things in the will or trust might be changed by the court. 

Work With an Experienced Probate Attorney

Proving undue influence is complex, and the burden of proof is very high. You must prove that the person who benefited from the gift was in a confidential relationship with the decedent. The transferee (the person receiving the gift) engaged in manipulative conduct to coerce the decedent into changing their estate plan. 

To obtain justice, you have to work with the right legal team. Our attorneys at Hess-Verdon can separate what is true from what is not and stand up for you in court. Contact us at (949) 706-7300 to set an appointment.

* For a limited time, Hess-Verdon is offering a Learn more about our 2nd opinion case evaluation.
You owe it to yourself to have your case reviewed by our expert team of attorneys. 

How To Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know!

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How To Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know!
How To Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know!
How To Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know!
How To Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know!
How To Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know!
How To Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know!
How To Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know!
How To Prove Undue Influence. What You Should Know!
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