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How “undue influence” can lead to probate litigation

It can be difficult enough to see a loved one pass away without having to worry about the details of that person’s will and how the estate will be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. Unfortunately, sometimes when the terms of a person’s will become known to those who thought they might have a share in the distribution of the estate, it becomes clear that something is “off.” When a loved one left a disproportionate share of the estate to one particular person, allegations of “undue influence” can arise.

“Undue influence” occurs when someone tries to persuade a person – usually a person who may be at the end of life, in and out of consciousness or otherwise lacking in a coherent ability to make decisions – to leave large parts of the estate to a designated individual. When other heirs and beneficiaries begin to think that this type of scenario occurred, it may lead to probate litigation.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to prove that someone manipulated the person who made the will – known as the “testator.” It isn’t as if the manipulation is likely to occur in the open. However, previous wills, or changes to wills that are made when it can be medically verified that a person was somewhat incapacitated, could be enough to show the undue influence in question.

No one wants to think about their heirs and beneficiaries fighting over an estate in probate litigation. Perhaps the best way to prevent this scenario is to make sure that an estate plan is crafted early in life and changed only when major life events occur, such as marriages, the birth of children or divorces. It can also be beneficial to explain the terms of a will to the designated heirs and beneficiaries.

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