A beneficiary may seek to challenge the validity of a Will based upon an allegation of undue influence at the time the decedent created the Will. Generally speaking, this means that the Will was not the product of the decedent’s own free will and volition, but instead, was the product of undue influence asserted by another individual over the decedent thereby rendering the Last Will and Testament that was drafted not reflective of the decedent’s true intentions, but instead, the wishes of the party asserting undue influence.
In order to establish the invalidity of a Will based upon an allegation of undue influence, the challenging party must present evidence which demonstrates that the type of conduct which occurred caused the decedent to execute a Will which did not accurately reflect his/her true intentions, but instead, those of the other party.
During a Will contest, a party may be successful in shifting the burden of proof to the other side to demonstrate that there was no undue influence in the execution of the Will. The shifting of the burden of proof may occur when there is a confidential relationship between the proponent and the decedent, such as any attorney/client relationship, a power of attorney relationship, or any other relationship where trust and confidence naturally exists. Should a party also establish the existence of suspicious circumstances, it may shift the burden of proof to the proponent of the Will to demonstrate its validity.
If a party is successful in establishing the invalidity of a Will based upon an allegation of undue influence, then the Testator may be deemed to have died intestate, or in the alternative, it may revert to a previous Will of the decedent provided a copy still exists. Factors that the Court may consider in determining whether a Testator may have been subjected to undue influence concern a decedent’s health at the time the Will was executed, the relationship between the decedent and the person who benefitted by the newly drafted Will, and whether the decedent was in good mental and physical health during the same time. There is no set formula in this regard; however, factors which demonstrate a mental or physical weakness may make the individual more susceptible to undue influence.
Should a party wish to challenge a Will based upon undue influence, it is suggested that they consult with any attorney as this is a complex process.