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Claiming undue influence through probate and estate litigation

On Behalf of | Dec 28, 2021 | Probate Litigation

When a loved one dies in Louisiana, it is unfortunate that there is often a dispute over their property. This is frequently perceived as happening if the person died intestate – meaning without a will. However, discord can also arise if the person had a will or other estate planning documents and those who do not believe they received what they thought they were entitled to as part of the plan decide to pursue litigation. While there are many reasons why a person’s will could be called into question, a common one is if there was undue influence. If it is shown that there was undue influence, then this could be grounds to nullify the document. When this is suspected, it is wise to have professional assistance to determine an effective strategy to address the issues.

Key points about undue influence in an estate plan

When a person creates an estate plan, it does not necessarily need to remain static for the rest of their life. There are viable reasons to change the document such as updating it because there was a divorce; having had a child or grandchild; accruing more property; downsizing and having less to leave to loved ones and more. In general, if the will was not changed in a suspicious way, there is little reason to think any wrongdoing took place. Still, if there were substantive changes with little to no explanation, then this might be worrisome and need to be dissected. If it is shown that there was undue influence, nullification is possible.

For example, if one of the testator’s children is spending inordinate time with him or her and there is a sudden decision to change the will leaving the bulk of the property to that adult child, then the other children could wonder what happened to spark the change. This is also true for a new spouse. The key to having the plan nullified is to show that the influence was so significant that the testator’s own choices were pushed to the side and they were not acting of their own volition. This can be complicated and difficult to prove, so evidence must be accumulated to show that the sudden changes were unusual and unreasonable.

Professional help can be key with suspected undue influence in a will

Often, in these complicated cases, heirs were completely unaware that the will had been changed in the first place. They learn about it during probate and as the property is set to be passed along as the will stipulates. Once they see that there were aspects of the document that are questionable, it is imperative to seek guidance immediately to learn how to move forward with a case to see if undue influence factored in and to try and achieve what they believe is a fairer resolution. For cases in which probate and estate litigation is necessary, it is vital to have professional guidance from the start. Even if the testator was unprotected when the will might have been changed because of undue influence, that does not mean the wishes will not be fulfilled after the case is scrutinized.