The Gormley Law Office is pleased to present this estate litigation series. We represent people every day in Washington DC and in Maryland in probate matters and estate litigation. Contact us today!
We are frequently asked to represent heirs to an estate that believe they have been shortchanged in a family member’s estate because of interference by another family member or an outsider. Often, it’s not obvious that this has happened until after the death, when a new will is discovered or filed that contradicts a previous will, or contradicts what the decedent told an heir prior to death.
We’ve written separate posts on inheritance theft and how to prevent it. It’s important to be vigilant because these situations can happen very quickly and without your knowledge. Transfers of property, assets or gifts can be difficult or impossible to reverse, regardless of your legal rights.
There are a couple of ways to prove undue influence. Sometimes there is a pattern of circumstantial evidence that points to a pattern and that can be helpful too.
Generally, here are the elements of proving undue influence:
- The testator was susceptible to influence. This may include showing the age, state of mind, or health of the testator made him susceptible to influence.
- The distribution of the estate provided for in the contested will doesn’t make sense. If the will leaves most of the estate to someone who isn’t even related and leaves out the children of the decedent, this is suspicious.
- The distribution of the estate is very different than that provided for in a prior will or what the testator told the heirs while alive.
- The suspected influencer gains a lot of benefit from the contested will.
- The suspected influencer had the ample opportunity to exert influence over the decedent. Sometimes this is done through manipulation or isolation, but sometimes it could be a caregiver who helps them with daily activities of living.
- The person who arranged for the will is main beneficiary of the will or there are other suspicious circumstances around the will or how it was executed.
- There is a fiduciary relationship between the testator and suspected influencer.
We don’t recommend attempting this type of litigation on your own. Also, it can be difficult to remain calm in these types of disputes, especially when dealing with other family members, and hiring an attorney usually signals serious intent which may pressure the other side to settle, especially if they lack the resources to hire their own counsel.