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Understanding undue influence over estate decisions

When facing legal issues regarding an estate, including trust litigation or the contesting of a will, often matters of undue influence come up. Whether you are alleging that undue influence occurred or battling against such accusations, it's important to understand what actually constitutes undue influence over someone else.

As humans, we often discuss our wishes with others and seek advice from trusted friends and family. When someone is considering a will or other estate plans, he or she might use one's family members as a sounding board or even ask for the opinion of others about certain matters. Such opinions and discussions do not count as undue influence. In such a situation, the person is free to take or leave any advice they receive, and ultimately, the final decision is theirs.

Undue influence occurs when that isn't the case. It usually requires that the person be susceptible to outside influence in a way that isn't standard; often, this can occur when someone is incapacitated, suffers memory or cognitive impairment as they age or is otherwise forced into a situational reliance on someone else.

In addition to the ability to influence someone greatly, undue influence also usually involves manipulation for a specific reason. A loved one, friend or new acquaintance might provide influence that result in their being enriched financially in a way that might not have occurred outside of the inappropriate influence.

To prove such influence occurred -- and thus that the will or other estate plans might be invalid -- you often have to show that someone had motive and opportunity to exert such influence. Courts often look for a trust position or relationship that exists between the deceased and the person who is accused of influencing him or her.

Source: Adeste In-Home Care, "Avoiding Undue Influence With Parents’ Estate Planning," accessed April 07, 2017

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