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How to prove undue influence in trust litigation

There can be a lot of uncertainties surrounding the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, the estate administration process can be murky and disconcerting. If something seems fishy during the administration of a trust, it can cause beneficiaries to ask a lot of questions.

Sometimes, a caretaker usurps a family's inheritance via improper trust management. This often arises due to undue influence. Here are some important elements of undue influence that may result in the removal of the trustee and invalidation of the trust terms.

A vulnerable victim

People who create trusts, also known as grantors, are often physically or mentally weak. This can leave them susceptible to unfair persuasion and pressure. Proof of vulnerability often includes mental incapacity, disability, illness, age, injury, impaired cognitive function, dependency or isolation. This vulnerability must be apparent to a reasonable person. 

An apparent authority figure

The influencer must have some type of real or perceived authority over the vulnerable victim. This means an undue influencer can be a family member, fiduciary, health care professional, spiritual leader or legal professional. The individual does not necessarily need to have some type of qualification or official authority. All that is necessary is for the victim to believe the individual is superior or "in charge" in some way.

Tactics and actions

Influencers often control the victim's necessities, such as limiting access to others, medication or food. An influencer may use coercion, intimidation or even affection to exert control. Other actions include using secrecy to initiate changes in property rights. 

An unfair result

Undue influence must end with some type of inequitable result. This often involves an economic consequence to the victim. It may include a change from the victim's original intent or course of conduct. The undue influencer may benefit most from the trust. 

If undue influence is apparent, certain portions of the trust may be invalid and the trustee may be removed.

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