Estate planning documents, including wills, help clarify someone’s last wishes after their passing. Most estates with testamentary documents will proceed through probate in accordance with someone’s wishes. The people they designate as beneficiaries will receive their property, and the estate will also settle their financial obligations to others.
There are a limited number of situations in which an individual or multiple people can contest someone else’s will. Generally, those asking the probate courts to set aside someone’s testamentary documents will need a solid reason for doing so. One of the few scenarios that will justify a will contest is when family members can reasonably claim that one of the beneficiaries of the will has exerted undue influence on the testator’s planning process.
Who is in a position to put undue influence on an individual planning their estate?
Spouses and caregivers are the most likely sources of influence
Undue influence involves a number of specific factors, including a vulnerable testator and an individual in a position to coerce, threaten or manipulate them. Typically, the person exerting undue influence will need to have direct access to the testator and will also need to be a beneficiary of the estate.
Frequently, someone’s spouse would be in a position to use their relationship with the testator to manipulate their estate plan. Individuals serving as caregivers, including children, grandchildren and family friends, could also inappropriately influence someone’s estate plan for their own benefit.
Situations involving reasonable suspicions of undue influence would likely justify a family’s decision to litigate the matter in probate court. Knowing who could exert undue influence could help people better spot questionable estate planning changes in time to take appropriate action.