The situation often goes something like this: After a loved one passes away, his or her family members are surprised to learn of a last-minute change in the will. Large sums of money or property were left to a single person. The change just doesn’t seem in line with your loved one’s intentions. Suspicions build, and you start to wonder whether the recipient twisted your loved one’s arm.
If the change was the product of undue influence, the law recognizes that the problematic bequest should be set aside.
Where do you draw the line?
While there is a highly technical 3-part legal test for undue influence in Texas, it’s easier to define in terms of what it is not. It’s not just persuasion. Pressuring – or even begging – your loved one to give them an inheritance is not enough. However, undue influence may start to arise when somebody exerts such strong control over the victim that he or she essentially no longer has a choice. Fraud, deceit and threats might play a role in coercing the victim to yield.
How do you know when undue influence has tainted a will?
Because there is no bright-line definition of undue influence, there are rarely clear-cut answers. And because the victim is no longer living, there generally won’t be any direct evidence of undue influence. The entire case may turn on bits and pieces of circumstantial evidence which, taken as a whole, point to a troubling power dynamic.
Often, these cases start with a pattern of suspicious behavior. A picture gradually emerges that a family member or caregiver took advantage of a vulnerable elder. The victim may have become increasingly dependent on the perpetrator for his or her daily needs. Physical and mental disabilities – combined with significant wealth – can create a situation ripe for abuse.
What to do next
If you suspect that undue influence tainted your loved one’s will, it’s important to speak with a knowledgeable probate lawyer right away. You may have strong grounds for challenging the will in court.