5 Warning Signs a Will was Signed Under Undue Influence
November 17th, 2020
When the death of a loved one comes with an unexpected surprise, you might find yourself wondering what happened in their final days. You may be left wondering how to sue for inheritance if you were unexpectedly excluded, and whether the new estate plan was signed under undue influence.
What is Undue Influence?
Under Florida law, “undue influence” is one of several ways to challenge a Will, trust, or other estate planning document you believe was entered improperly. Undue influence is the most common Will challenge in Florida and it comes up when someone close to the deceased, such as a relative, account manager, or care giver, took advantage of that relationship to defraud, manipulate, or coerce him or her to their own advantage.
Undue influence can be used to challenge more than just the division of a decedent’s estate under Florida probate law. It is the basis to invalidate a:
- Beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, bank accounts, or insurance policies
- Inter vivos transfers and gifts made while your loved one was alive
However, if you hadn’t been spending significant time with your loved one in the days and months leading up to their death, it may be hard to tell whether their estate plan truly reflected their own wishes or the deceptive behavior of someone else. Here are 5 warning signs to look for to protect your family and your deceased loved one’s true intent.
5 Warning Signs of Undue Influence
- Vulnerability to coercion due to age or diminished mental capacity
- Isolation from friends and family
- Close involvement by the benefiting beneficiary
- Change from prior estate plans, lawyers, or plan administrators
- Inconsistent statements by the deceased
Vulnerability to Coercion Due to Age or Diminished Mental Capacity
Proving mental incapacity is a difficult way to invalidate a Will. However, when your loved one suffered from declining health, old-age dementia, or other conditions that cause diminished capacity, it can be a factor weighing into undue influence. If your loved one was easily confused, tended to believe improbable stories, or was not always clear on the status of their friends and family, you may be more able to show undue influence through circumstantial evidence of their reduced mental capacity.
Isolation from Friends and Family
As an outsider, you may not have had too much involvement in your family member’s day-to-day life leading up to their death. But if everyone in your loved one’s family, religious community, and friend group noticed they had been isolated around the time the new estate plan was created, that could be a sign of undue influence. Intentional isolation prevents the natural heirs from weighing in on your loved one’s decisions, and makes it easier for the manipulator to shift your loved one’s opinion in their favor.
Close Involvement by the Benefiting Beneficiary
When a beneficiary is attempting to pressure a loved one into changing their estate plan, that beneficiary often plays a heavy role in the process. The beneficiary may have chosen the estate planning attorney, been present during the consultation and execution of the Will, recruited witnesses and even given instructions directly to the lawyer. At Harrison Estate Law, we always make sure we speak to our clients privately to make sure they aren’t being pressured into making the changes they request. However, other lawyers may not be as careful. Close involvement by a beneficiary who stands to gain a lot through the estate plan is a sign of undue influence.
Change from Prior Estate Plans, Lawyers, or Plan Administrators
Another sign of undue influence is an abrupt change from prior estate planning done by the deceased. Last minute changes to who receives benefit from the estate, who the named beneficiaries are, and who is responsible for administering the estate can all signal that the beneficiary is exerting an inappropriate amount of influence. When the lawyers involved change too, especially from an experienced estate planning attorney to someone without specific experience, it may be an effort to hide undue influence by the beneficiary.
Inconsistent Statements By the Deceased
One way to show your loved one’s true intentions is through testimony about their prior inconsistent statements. Florida law has abandoned the “Dead Man’s Statute”, and in certain circumstances permits testimony allowing the deceased’s surviving family members and friends to testify about conversations they had before the person’s death. When those conversations and the Will before the probate court conflict, it is a sign of undue influence.
How to Challenge a Will Based on Undue Influence
Challenging a will based on undue influence in Florida can be complicated, involving expert testimony, medical documents, and investigating your loved one’s actions in their final days. You only have a short time to file a will challenge based on undue influence. At Harrison Estate Law, P.A., our experienced estate and probate team can help you investigate your loved one’s choices around the Will and decide if there are grounds to challenge it. If you learn you have been excluded from a close relative’s Will, be sure to speak to an experienced Florida probate attorney right away to protect your inheritance and your loved one’s true wishes. Contact us here or call 352-559-9828 to get help today.