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What is undue influence and how does it impact a will?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2018 | Blog |

The will just doesn’t feel right. It says that your father wrote it and approved it. It looks like his signature. But you can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong.

Your mother passed away a decade ago, so, when your father passed away last month, his estate went to you, your brother and your sister. They both live in the Lynnwood area, but you moved away for your career.

What feels so wrong to you is simple: Far more of the assets went to your brother and sister. It’s not that you didn’t get anything. And you’re not trying to be greedy; your business is doing well and you don’t need the extra money. It’s just that your father always liked to split things evenly and you can’t believe he’d write a will that was so biased against you.

The reality

You could be a victim of undue influence. This essentially means that your brother and sister used a position of power — they were caring for your elderly father and he was dependent on them — to influence the will.

Maybe they lied about you. Maybe they intercepted the letters you wrote and threw them away. Maybe your father’s mental abilities were slipping and they just tricked him into doing things he never wanted to do and didn’t remember afterward. In the end, though that is his official will, it doesn’t reflect his thoughts and desires.

Experts warn about situations where a caretaker benefits more than anyone else from a will. That person has much more access to the elderly individual.

Granted, these warnings could also be aimed at non-family members. Perhaps the caretaker is a hired home health aid. If the will comes out and he or she gets just as much as the blood relatives, is that cause for concern? But the same thing can happen with family members and even siblings, when influence on the elderly parent is not equal.

Complex situations

It is worth noting that these situations get very tricky. Just because the will “feels” wrong doesn’t mean it is. The court has to consider the fact that your father may have had a valid reason for making the change.

For instance, perhaps you are financially independent thanks to your career. Your brother and sister, meanwhile, are still living near your father because they’re stuck in dead-end jobs. He worried about what they’d do after he was gone, so he gave them more assets because they needed more assets.

Even so, this is a serious red flag. In a complex case that people contest on both sides, it is very important to understand your legal options. Undue influence could mean that a will does not stand.

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