After the loss of a loved one, a will is normally submitted to the state court for probate. Usually, the court administers the estate without much debate. The court reviews the validity of the will. Then estate assets are inventoried, liabilities paid and what remains is distributed to beneficiaries of the will according to its instructions.
Sometimes, though, probate does not go this smoothly. Unfortunately, at times surviving family members, loved ones, friends or involved professionals have concerns that there may be a valid reason to challenge the will such as improper execution, fraud, incompetency or undue influence. We’ll discuss the last in more detail in this post.
Red flags that may indicate undue influence
Let’s start our focus on undue influence with a definition – generally this occurs when someone uses aggressive manipulation to overcome the will maker’s free will to leave his or her property to the beneficiaries and in the amounts or ways he or she really wanted to. The elderly and psychologically/physically vulnerable are at heightened risk.
If the nearest sibling who provided care inherits the whole estate, it might raise questions about why others were disinherited. Here are some other common themes in these cases:
- Social isolation was used to affect provisions in the will.
- Lies created a situation that influenced how the victim reacted.
- Moments of mental weakness were exploited to manipulate the victim.
These cases can be complex and require a careful investigation into the circumstances surrounding the will’s execution. Who was most involved in your loved one’s life at the time? Were your loved one’s best interests kept in mind?
Colorado court standard
The Supreme Court of Colorado elaborated on undue influence in the case of Ofstad v. Sarconi. In that case, the court talked about how hard it can be to show undue influence existed because there may not be direct evidence and there is “no precise formula.”
The court pointed out circumstances that may indicate undue influence such as:
- A confidential relationship between the victim and the alleged influencer
- Terms in the will that benefit the perpetrator
- Mental or physical illness of the victim
- A will kept secret from the victim’s relatives
Anyone worried that undue influence affected the provisions of a last will and testament should seek immediate legal advice. This is advised whether a concerned family member or the one accused of manipulating a deceased person.