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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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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 attorneysImagine this scenario: Your elderly grandmother has lived with a caretaker for several years. She passes away and upon reading her will, you find that your grandmother has left all of her assets and belongings to the caretaker and none to her children or grandchildren. For many people, this would raise red flags. There are countless scenarios like this which lead to families contesting the validity of a loved one’s will.

When Should a Will Be Contested?

If you think that your loved one’s will does not accurately reflect his or her final wishes, you should contest it. Contesting the will means that you are asking the courts to deem the will invalid. Probate courts in Illinois can invalidate a will for several specific reasons. Firstly, a will can be thrown out if can be shown that the deceased person, or the decedent, was unduly influenced by someone during the will's creation. For example, in the hypothetical scenario above, the caretaker could have coerced the elderly grandmother to leave her property to him instead of her family.

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Lombard estate planning lawyersIn the weeks and months following the death of a loved one, you are likely to experience a wide range of emotions. Grief and sadness, of course, are often the most common, but you may also feel twinges of anger, guilt, and regret over missed opportunities. If your loved one was very sick or in pain, there may even be a sense of relief. All of these feelings are a normal part of dealing with a significant loss and are to be expected.

If your loved one had a will or another type of estate planning document, the emotional rollercoaster may resume when it comes time to execute the will. Many of the same feelings may come flooding back, possibly accompanied by a great deal of surprise if the will contains unexpected terms and provisions or is not the same document you discussed with your loved one prior to his or her death. When such surprises occur, it is worth trying to find out if the will was the product of undue influence and whether contesting the will is appropriate.

What Is Undue Influence?

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