The estate planning documents someone creates while still alive determine exactly what happens with their property when they die. Every adult who has acquired resources and taken on responsibilities to others, such as their children, has the legal right to decide for themselves what should happen with those assets.
A will or other testamentary document included in an estate plan should honestly capture someone’s wishes based on their sense of obligation to others and their relationships. Unfortunately, there are some people who try to manipulate those creating an estate plan for their own selfish gain. Ultimately, family members may question whether undue influence from a spouse, child or caregiver led to someone drastically altering their will. How can families prove undue influence when they contest a will in probate court?
Present earlier versions of the will
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence in an undue influence claim will be what the testator had previously chosen to do with their assets. The more significant the change and the more those changes benefit a single party, the more likely that a probate court judge is to agree with family members that the final will someone left was not a reflection of their actual intentions. That earlier version of the will could end up being the document that ultimately determines what happens with someone’s property if the courts agree with the claims of undue influence.
Show evidence of manipulation or alienation
Perhaps someone took advantage of an older adult in declining health by manipulating their perception of other family members. They may have fabricated stories or exaggerated true events to make family members appear unreliable or even malicious. Other times, they might have interfered with family members’ attempts to communicate with an older adult. They might also have prevented them from visiting frequently as a way to raise questions about their relationship with the testator. The more proof there is that the person who benefited from the estate planning changes lied to the testator or tried to alter their relationship with others, the better the chances of convincing the courts that undue influence likely undermined someone’s wishes.
Collecting necessary evidence to prove misconduct on the part of a beneficiary can potentially benefit those who believe they need to challenge the validity and/or enforceability of a will.