Probating a will is always an emotionally charged experience, but the stakes can be even higher if there are concerns about the validity of the will. One common issue related to a will’s validity is whether the person who made the will was actually making the will that they wanted, or whether they were operating under the undue influence of another. In those cases, a person, often a caretaker or other person in a position of trust, has so much power over the testator that they can actually subvert that person’s judgment for their own. Given the seriousness of the issue and the level of influence necessary to succeed in an undue influence challenge, it can be difficult to prove. However, there are common things that people can look for that often signal the possibility of undue influence.
What Undue Influence Is
Undue influence is a challenge to the validity of a person’s will based on the fact that they were being inappropriately influenced by some other person, usually a beneficiary of a new will. In order to succeed on an undue influence challenge in Ohio, a person must be able to prove four things. First, they must show that the person making the will was in some way susceptible, often because of age or infirmity. Second, they must show that some other party such as a caretaker had the opportunity to improperly influence the person making the will. Third, they have to prove that the undue influence actually took place, and fourth they must demonstrate that the influence had some effect, such as the person’s changing the beneficiary of their will.
While these four elements sound straightforward, they can be difficult to prove in practice. The influence often takes place behind closed doors, and in subtle ways, so family members looking to contest a will are often left to rely on circumstantial evidence to prove their points.
Showing Undue Influence
Given the nature of these sorts of challenges, it is rare to find a smoking gun piece of evidence that demonstrates undue influence. Instead, challengers to a will are attempting to piece together a variety of pieces of evidence so that the court can draw its own inferences. One of the most common pieces of evidence that can be used is the alleged influencer’s level of involvement in the creation of the new will. To the extent that a caretaker suggested that the person draft a new will or went out and found the attorney, undue influence is more likely. Another common type of evidence includes things that tend to show that the person exerting the influence took steps to isolate the testator from friends and family.
There are also situations where a court will presume that undue influence has occurred, leaving the job of proving otherwise to the person who allegedly wielded the influence. These situations usually arise when the two people were in some sort of special confidential relationship, such as an attorney and a client.
If you believe that your loved one’s last wishes are not being properly fulfilled as a result the undue influence of another, contact an Akron probate attorney at the Law Office of John C. Grundy today to learn about your rights.