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Undue influence – what is it, and how can I prove it?

by | Aug 4, 2021 | Probate And Estate Litigation, Wills And Trusts |

It is extremely difficult to deal with the grief involved in the death of a loved one. That grief can quickly turn into rage when you read your loved one’s will and realize that they inexplicably altered their estate plan before death to disproportionately favor one person at the expense of the deceased’s other loved ones. You might have a suspicion that there was some inappropriate pressure put on your loved one, but how can you be sure? And more importantly, how can you prove it in a court of law?

Testamentary capacity

Just like every state, Massachusetts has laws in place that govern what makes a will legitimate and enforceable in court. For example, a testator (the person creating the will) must sign the will in the presence of two or more witnesses, who then sign the will.

The reason why witnesses are necessary is so that, if needed, they can testify that the testator created their will with the proper testamentary capacity. This means that they wrote the terms of their will according to their own desires, and that no one put improper pressure on them to write or change their will in a particular way – also known as undue influence.

Undue influence

Undue influence can take a variety of forms. For example, if the deceased was elderly, sick or incapacitated towards the end of their life, the person taking care of them might exert undue influence on them by taking advantage of their weakened state to coerce them into modifying their will.

If you decide to hire an attorney and bring a lawsuit to challenge the legitimacy of a will, your attorney’s job will be to prove that the decedent didn’t have the proper testamentary capacity when they created or modified their will. They can do this by pointing out unusual or unexpected decisions to write out people who were close to the decedent, or to whom the decedent had previously promised inheritances, in favor of someone who was in a position to exert undue influence on them.

It can be heartbreaking to discover that your loved one was taken advantage of during the last years of their life. A lawsuit to challenge the will can go a long way towards rectifying some of the damage done by undue influence.

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