What Is Meant by Undue Influence and Confidential Relationships?

When A Will is Questioned

Sometimes the validity of a will is questioned because there is a concern that the deceased was taken advantage of in some manner when writing their will. It is possible to overturn a will through a will contest in Surrogate’s court, if you have reason to believe that your loved one was taken advantage of. One of the most common reasons for overturning a will is undue influence.

What is Undue Influence?

Undue influence is when proof exists that the deceased was taken advantage of by someone they trusted, to create a will that they would benefit from. Commonly it must be proved that:

  • The will leaves assets in a way that is unexpected under the circumstances.
  • The decedent was dependent on, or trusted, the person who exerted influence.
  • Dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, cognitive disorders, or physical disabilities made the decedent susceptible to undue influence.
  • The influencer took advantage of the decedent and benefited from the will by substituting his own will for that of the will-maker.

While the person contesting the will must prove it was written under someone’s undue influence, there is an exception. If it is established that the decedent was in a confidential relationship with the alleged influencer, the burden of proof shifts to the person in the confidential relationship who then must prove that undue influence was not exercised upon the decedent.  This shifting of the burden of proof can often be the most important legal aspect in this type of case.

What Are Confidential Relationships?

Confidential relationships are relationships with people who have knowledge or expertise, and who have the responsibility of representing the interests of another. Confidential relationships, that might apply undue influence, can occur between a person and their accountant, lawyer, caretaker, or relative.

Proving Undue Influence

Since the person who created the will is deceased and cannot testify, it can be difficult to prove undue influence. In these cases, the court must rely on the testimony of people who knew the decedent well, such as healthcare providers, family members, attorneys, or other trusted advisers. However, if the will benefits someone in a confidential relationship with the decedent or if suspicious circumstances were present the court or jury may find undue influence.

Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC Trusts & Estates Attorneys specialize in the representation of executors and beneficiaries of large estates exceeding $500,000. Our extensive knowledge and experience with New York Estates, Powers & Trusts Law (EPTL), Surrogate Court Procedures Act (SCPA), and other estate laws and case precedent provides our clients with the strong representation these matters require. Contact us here or call us at (914) 228-7448.

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