Undue influence in the context of estate planning refers to a situation in which a person takes advantage of their confidential or fiduciary relationship to substitute or impose their will in place of the original person’s will. If you believe undue influence has been used for creating a trust or will be signed by your deceased loved one, you should immediately consult with an experienced probate attorney to take the necessary legal countermeasures to protect your rights and present a strong case before the probate court.
What is Undue Influence?
As per California legislature and California Welfare and Institutions Code section 15610.70, undue influence means employing excessive persuasion to cause another person to act in a certain manner by overcoming that person’s free will.
Undue influence is an abusive act that involves applying physical, psychological, and even emotional pressure on another person for securing a specific benefit that the other person would not have provided them. In the estate planning world, this is usually in the form of forcing a person to change a family trust or the Last Will and Testament.
Examples of undue influence in families
- Stepparents: A stepmother or stepfather may use their undue influence to coerce the other parent to increase their trust assets or inheritance by taking monies away from other heirs.
- Children: Abusive children often threaten and coerce elderly parents to gain favor in the will over their brothers and sisters.
- Caregivers and family friends: Caregivers are known to influence the elderly to remove the inheritance from their children. Abusive friends of the deceased may attempt to get their hands on assets that were never intended for them.
- Service providers: Doctors, dentists, plumbers, HVAC workers, chiropractors, teachers, students, therapists, and others are known to influence elders to get estates intended for others.
Undue influence where estate planning is concerned can happen from anyone including children, parents, wives, husbands, trustees, attorneys, beneficiaries, pastors, administrators, doctors, fiancée, guardians, neighbors, and others.
Signs of Undue Influence in California
Puzzling terms in the will are usually the result of undue influence. These are other possible indications that your loved one is probably being unduly influenced:
- Testator doesn’t have sound mental capacity
- Testator is slowly getting isolated from loved ones
- Companion or caretaker that was otherwise unknown to the family is now spending a lot of time with the testator
- Testator claims psychological, emotional, and physical abuse
Burden of Proof in Undue Influence
Typically, the person claiming undue influence has to prove it. You will need to file a case in the County Probate Court with the help of a probate attorney. Undue influence is different from regular physical elder abuse claims. The State of California is responsible for filing criminal charges against the abuser in those situations.
Contesting a Will in California Over Undue Influence
A will can only be challenged by an interested party. This means you should stand to inherit under California intestacy laws or should be mentioned in the will. The personal representatives or executor of the decedent’s estate files legal papers for beginning the probate process when the testator passes away.
Interested parties receive a notice about the will entering probate during the process. If you are eligible to contest the will, you will have 90 days before the execution takes place. The really difficult part is to convince the court that the testator created, amended, or revoked another will because of undue influence. This is not easy and an attorney’s help can be vital to the entire process.
Undue Influence Test in California
There is a sort of undue influence test as per the California legislature and California Welfare and Institutions Code section 15610.70. You need to establish four elements to prove undue influence occurred.
- Vulnerability of the victim: Evidence of vulnerability may include incapacity, disability, illness, age, education, injury, emotional distress, impaired cognitive function, isolation, and dependency among others. You will also need to prove the influencer was aware of the alleged vulnerability.
- Apparent authority of the influencer: People with apparent authority generally include family members, care providers, legal professionals, spiritual advisers, and healthcare professionals among others.
- Influencer actions: Evidence of actions or tactics towards initiation of changes include controlling necessaries of life, such as medication or victim’s interactions with the world. Other actions proving undue influence include affection, intimidation, coercion, secrecy or haste, and claims of expertise.
- Evidence of equity: This includes divergence from the victim’s prior intent, economic consequences to the victim, appropriateness of the change in terms of length and nature of the relationship, and value of the consideration received.
Several statutes come into play when disputing a trust or contesting a will on undue influence grounds in California. You should speak with a trust litigation attorney as soon as possible if you witness undue influence or are worried that someone may be trying to coerce your loved one.
Hire Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys in California for Will and Trust Matters
The estate planning attorneys at Garmo & Garmo are familiar with the state as well as local county probate rules. Our lawyers understand your particular situation and provide you with the best possible legal advice. We have a demonstrable track record of achieving favorable resolutions for our clients in all types of probate and estate planning matters.
To request your free and confidential consultation, call us at 619-441-2500 or reach us online.