One of the potential causes of action pursuant to which a party may seek to invalidate a Will is based upon an allegation that undue influence was exerted against the Decedent by a beneficiary to the disputed Will. If the challenger to the Will can prove that the Decedent was subjected to undue influence which caused him/her to execute a Will, then in that event, the Will may be invalidated by the court. In general, in order for an influence to rise to the level of undue, it must be shown that the influence was of such a nature so as to destroy the free will and agency of the person over whom it was exerted. In other words, the influence that was exerted over the Decedent must rise to the level that the free will of this person no longer controlled the decisions they made, but instead, the Will was merely the product of the desires of the party who sought to have the Will changed for their benefit.
Undue influence may be mental, moral, or physical, or a combination of all three. One example of mental undue influence would be subjecting the party to mental anguish or other mental tricks in order to cause them to execute a Will which does not reflect their true intentions. This type of influence is similar to moral undue influence whereby the testator is subjected to improper statements about the morality of their decisions which thereby causes the decedent to execute a Will which does not reflect their true intent. Finally, physical undue influence can arise in cases where the Decedent is wholly dependent upon the party for whom they drafted a Will which improperly benefitted them.
Regardless of the type of the undue that was exerted, the influence must nonetheless rise to the level so as to pre-empt the testator from following their own mind, but instead, accepting the domination and influence of the party seeking to change the Will. As such, it is not the type of common day to day influence which may be exerted by a child over their parent, but instead, the influence must rise to the level of destroying the free will of the testator. Often, undue influence is found where there is a drastic change in a Will which benefits the party who exerted the undue influence to the exclusion of the other beneficiaries of the Estate. One of the hallmarks of these types of matters would be unequal distributions which were changed pursuant to the Last Will and Testament of the decedent shortly before the decedent passed away. Obviously, what constitutes undue influence is subject to numerous interpretations and is fact sensitive, and thus, it is important that a party have competent counsel present these claims on their behalf.