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Lombard estate planning attorneysSadly, as long as there are vulnerable people in the world, unscrupulous individuals will attempt to exploit that vulnerability. This is especially a concern for those with elderly or disabled relatives. When someone exerts “undue influence” on an elderly or otherwise incapacitated person, they try to convince that person to make a different decision than he or she planned to make. This often occurs with financial and inheritance concerns. If you believe that your relative was under undue influence when he or she created a will or other estate planning document, you may be able to bring these suspicions to probate court.

Elderly Individuals and Those with Dementia Can Be Taken Advantage Of

Probate is the verification process which every will goes through in order for inheritance directions to be carried out after an individual dies. If you have recently lost a loved one and you suspect that his or her will does not actually reflect his or her final wishes, you may petition the court to have the will invalidated. This is called contesting the will. In order to prove your relative was under undue influence, you will need to show that:

  • Directions for asset distribution in the will are much different from what people close to the deceased would expect. For example, if close family members were left out of the will with no explanation, this may be evidence of undue influence or coercion;
  • The deceased person was particularly reliant on or trusting of the individual who you believe exerted influence;
  • Illness or cognitive decline made the deceased person susceptible to undue influence;
  • The person who you believe influenced the testator took advantage of him or her and benefited from this deceptive intimidation; and
  • The suspected influencer substituted his own desires for that of the will-maker.

It is important to note that unsolicited opinions and casual suggestions are not the same thing as undue influence. If your relative was mentally and physically independent, you may have a difficult time proving that his final wishes were not his own.

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Lombard estate planning attorneysDuring probate, the formal vetting process all wills must go through, heirs who believe a will is invalid can challenge that will in court. For example, if a relative worries that his elderly grandmother was coerced into agreeing to her will, he can contest that will. The court will examine the evidence and make a decision to either enforce the will or start from scratch and distribute the deceased person’s property according to state law. Wills can also be contested for dishonest reasons. For example, an heir who is unsatisfied with his or her inheritance may contest the will simply in an attempt to receive a greater inheritance. If you wish to make your will much less susceptible to being contested in court, a no-contest clause may be right for you.  

What Exactly is a No-Contest Clause?

A no-contest clause, often called a terrorem provision, is a set of directions written into a will or trust which addresses potential contests. The Latin phrase “In terrorem” literally translates to “about fear.” It is called this because the provision includes a penalty for anyone who tries and fails to contest the will during probate. If a disgruntled heir challenges the will without justification, that heir may be penalized. In this way, a no-contest clause can help discourage heirs or beneficiaries from challenging a will or trust.

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DuPage County estate planning attorneyThe time after the death of a loved one is almost always difficult, even if the death was preceded by a lengthy illness or years of health problems. When you are dealing with the grief and other emotions associated with loss, it can be especially troubling to learn that your loved one’s will was recently changed to benefit a particular beneficiary in a way that seems suspicious. If you have a reason to believe that the beneficiary—or anyone else—tricked or forced your loved one into amending his or her will, you may have the grounds to contest the will based on undue influence.

The Importance of Voluntary Testaments

Every person has the right to decide how his or her assets will be distributed on the person’s death. It is very important, however, for those decisions to be voluntary. A person who has been deceived or coerced into making certain choices about his or her property is not making them voluntarily. He or she is being manipulated.

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Lombard estate planning lawyerWhen you are dealing with the loss of a family member or loved one, financial and property considerations may be the furthest thing from your mind. In the weeks that follow, however, your intense emotions are likely to subside, giving you the space to think about your loved one’s estate and his or her will. Depending on your relationship to the person and his or her accumulated property, you may be expecting a sizable inheritance. But what happens if the terms of the will are not what you expected? What if your inheritance is less than you were promised? According to Illinois law, you may have the option of contesting your loved one’s will, but doing so may not always be the best choice.

Contesting a Will

The law provides certain people with the right to file a will contest, including those who would have some claim to the decedent’s estate if the person had died without a will as well as those named in previous wills. This means that if the person who died was a family friend rather than a relative and you were never named in any version of his or her will, you have no standing to contest the final will.

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