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Understanding an Undue Influence Lawsuit

A person’s estate is settled and distributed through a probate administration process called probate court that uses the testamentary will of the deceased to transfer assets and inheritance to beneficiaries. In some cases, this process can be challenged by a family member who feels there is a questionable distribution of the estate’s assets that doesn’t align with the wishes of the deceased. Known as an undue influence lawsuit, a beneficiary can sue to have the will invalidated if it can be proven that the deceased was manipulated into amending their last will and testament.

How Undue Influence Occurs

Those who practice undue influence are fraudulent people who prey on others in an attempt to con them of their wealth. According to the Second District Court of Appeal in Florida, undue influence amounts to “over-persuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances to such a degree that there is destruction of the free agency and willpower of the one making the will.” This type of manipulative behavior and mental abuse is often imposed upon the elderly and vulnerable by someone pretending to be a close friend and confidant. Typically, the person inflicting undue influence gains a person’s trust, feeds them misinformation, and isolates them from their family in order to be named sole benefactor to their estate.

How to Prove Undue Influence

If a will is believed to be written under undue influence, it must first be contested in probate court. The relative who suspects undue influence must prove that:

  • The deceased had a confidential relationship with the person accused of undue influence.
  • The deceased was susceptible to undue influence because of illness.
  • The will unexpectedly left out close family members with no explanation.
  • The undue influencer benefited from the will.

Should a relative succeed in proving that the deceased was taken advantage of, the probate judge would then invalidate the will.

How to Avoid Undue Influence

If you’re concerned that someone is taking advantage of a relative and their estate is at risk, don’t wait to take appropriate measures. If they suffer from declining health or have diminished capacity to make rational decisions, appoint a trusted guardian or conservator to handle their estate.

The best way to prevent disputes over your or a relative’s assets is to prepare an estate plan that clearly identifies beneficiaries and states intentions. Let the team at the BCN Law Firm in Clermont help with your estate planning needs. Call us today at 352-394-2103 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.