3 elements often necessary to establish undue influence in court

On Behalf of | Feb 6, 2024 | Probate

The undue influence of an outside party is one of the scenarios in which someone could challenge or contest a will or other testamentary documents. Undue influence involves someone other than the testator or decedent having a degree of control over the testator’s estate plan.

A claim of undue influence might lead to the Kentucky probate courts setting aside an entire will. In fact, the Kentucky courts can even void a trust if someone created it under the undue influence of another. Those hoping to inherit from an estate might have reason to raise questions about the influence of other parties on the final terms set by the testator. When the courts respond to allegations of undue influence, they usually look at three specific standards to determine whether the lawsuit has any merit.

A vulnerable testator

The first and perhaps most important requirement is that the testator needs to be in a vulnerable situation. Those with declining cognitive function and physical challenges often struggle to handle all of their financial responsibilities and independent living needs. Someone who has become dependent on others for aspects of daily life is in a vulnerable position. They are therefore at risk of experiencing undue influence.

Someone in a position to abuse their authority

The second requirement of an undue influence claim is that the person who exerted influence typically needs to be in a position of authority over the testator. Only someone with leverage can exert undue influence on a vulnerable adult. Whether they live with the testator or regularly visit to provide independent living or medical support, the outside party exerting influence generally needs to have responsibilities that give them a degree of power over the testator.

Terms that benefit the person exerting influence

The final component for an undue influence claim is proof that the testator drafted or changed their estate plan in accordance with the desires of the party exerting the influence on them. Typically, that means that they receive a large inheritance, assets that the testator had previously earmarked for another purpose or a position of authority because of the pressure that they exerted on the testator.

It is only when the situation meets those very specific standards that family members typically have grounds to claim there was undue influence on someone’s estate planning paperwork. As such, seeking legal guidance concerning the unique ins and outs of a particular situation might help people hold others accountable for an attempt to manipulate someone’s legacy for personal gain.