One of the most common reasons for overturning a will 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. To prove undue influence in New York, the person contesting the Will must prove three elements: (1) motive, (2) opportunity, and (3) actual exercise of undue influence.
The most common example of motive is a financial benefit to the undue influencer. Evidence of motive can sometimes be discovered by examining the size of the deceased’s estate and what the undue influencer may inherit.
Was the decedent dependent on the undue influencer? Did the decedent have dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, cognitive disorders, or physical disabilities contributing to their susceptibility of undue influence?
A common example of opportunity is a confidential relationship between the undue influencer and the decedent? Confidential relationships are relationships with people who have knowledge or expertise, and who have the responsibility of representing the interests of another. Confidential relationships may occur between a person and their accountant, lawyer, caretaker, or a relative.
Actual Exercise of Undue Influence
Since the person who created the will is deceased and cannot testify, it can be difficult to prove undue influence. In addition to demonstrating evidence of motive and opportunity, the evidence must also be presented to support the actual exercise of undue influence. For example, was the undue influencer involved in the preparation and/or execution of the will? In cases of undue influence, 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.
A Note on Undue Influence and Confidential Relationships
The person contesting the Will bears the burden of proof throughout the proceedings. However, 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 exerted upon the decedent. This shifting of the burden of proof can often be the most important legal aspect in this type of case.
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Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC Trusts & Estates Attorneys have extensive knowledge and experience with New York Estates, Powers & Trusts Law (EPTL), Surrogate Court Procedures Act (SCPA), and other estate laws and case precedent. Our experience and expertise provide our clients with the strong representation these matters require. To speak with an attorney about your case contact us at (914) 228-7448.