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What is the effect of claims of undue influence in probate court?

On Behalf of | Nov 14, 2022 | Estate Planning |

For many families, the reading of someone’s will is merely a technicality. The family is already familiar with the wishes of the recently deceased individual. The documents that they leave behind when they die align appropriately with the wishes they had previously expressed about their legacy.

Other times, family members read the will and start to question whether it is a proper reflection of their loved one’s wishes or not. Instead of leaving money to a charitable cause or dividing their property evenly among their children as previously discussed, your family member may have left much of their property to one person who you believe may have pushed for those bequests.

If you bring a claim of undue influence in probate court, what will happen?

You will need to prove your suspicions

Simply being unhappy with the share of the estate that your loved one allocated to you is not justification to challenge their wishes and probate court. You need concrete evidence to support your claim that one of the beneficiaries of the estate inappropriately influenced the testator’s decisions.

For example, you might point to the timing of the revisions to the documents to show that the changes occurred when your loved one was dependent on the person who benefited from their changed paperwork. There might even be evidence in the form of emails sent by the deceased about the pressure someone applied to an older adult to get them to change their estate plan.

Provided that you have documentation helping support your claims, the courts can then intervene. They might decide to uphold an older version of the estate plan that seems to better align with their long-stated wishes.

Alternatively, the courts may decide that the most appropriate and fair solution is to treat the estate as though the testator died without a will. They would then divide the property from the estate between close family members in accordance with state probate laws. If your claim is unsuccessful and the courts decide that there was no undue influence, then the existing will determines how the executor distributes the property in the estate.

Learning more about estate litigation can help those who question the validity of certain documents.