What is undue influence in estate planning?

On Behalf of | May 28, 2024 | Estate Planning

Estate planning documents, such as wills and trusts, serve different functions. However, they all share one common feature- they are intended to reflect the wishes of the creator.

That common feature is arguably the most important aspect of estate planning. While family members and friends may be involved in estate planning discussions, they should not directly instruct the creator on how to draft documents.

When an individual asserts pressure on the creator of an estate plan to draft certain clauses or make changes, this is called undue influence. What does undue influence look like in estate planning?

Vulnerable individuals

People with vulnerabilities are more susceptible to undue influence. For example, an elderly individual with dementia may have already created a will, but as their condition worsened, an individual close to them forced them to make changes to the document.

Testamentary capacity refers to a person’s physical and cognitive ability to fully understand the terms of a legal document. When this is in question, a careful eye should be kept on them to ensure that they are not subjected to undue influence.

Physical and emotional threats

Undue influence in estate planning can also occur via physical and emotional threats. For instance, if a person is threatened with physical violence or property damage if they do not change their will, then this is undue influence.

The threat needn’t be violence directed toward the creator. For example, if someone threatens to harm themself if changes are not made to a will, this may be classed as undue influence.

Undue influence is not always easy to establish. If you suspect undue influence has occurred, it’s important to reach out for more legal information.