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Undue Influence by a Beneficiary Can Invalidate a Will

 Posted on July 07, 2018 in Estate Planning

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.

Over the years, courts in Illinois have established a definition of what they consider “undue influence.” The influence of another person is considered “undue” if it “prevents the testator from exercising his [or her] will in the disposition of his [or her] estate” in such a way that the “testator’s will is rendered more the will of another.”

Something to Gain

Undue influence is often linked with beneficiaries or heirs attempting to manipulate a situation for their own benefit. To illustrate, picture a situation in which an aging widow has three children and a reasonably large estate. For many years, the two older children lived fairly close to their mother, visited regularly, and generally supported her as she got older. The youngest, by comparison, was more of a wanderer, living in many different states, and going for years at a time without contacting anyone in the family, including his mother. In her early 70s, the woman drafts a will that leaves an equal share of her estate to each of her children.

As the woman approaches 80 years old, her health begins to decline, and she requires around-the-clock care in a nursing home. The older children continue to visit her and to look after her needs, but the youngest is nowhere to be found for several months. Suddenly, he shows up and begins spending every day at the nursing home with his mother. The older siblings attribute the presence of their brother to years of guilt and wanting to spend quality time with his mother before she dies.

After a few weeks, the woman dies. Much to their surprise, the older siblings find that their mother had redrafted and executed her will just a few days before she died. In the new will, the youngest sibling is slated to receive about 75 percent of the woman’s estate, and the older children are to split the remainder. Such a situation would be ripe for legal action on the basis of undue influence.

Having the Will Set Aside

In order to have a will invalidated on the basis of undue influence by a beneficiary, you will need to show that the beneficiary in question had access to the creator of the will. You will also need to show provide convincing evidence that the final will was not compatible with the previously-expressed wishes of the decedent and that there was no reasonable indication of the decedent changing his or her mind voluntarily.

Proving undue influence can be difficult, but an experienced Lombard wills and trusts lawyer can help. Call 630-426-0196 to discuss your situation with a member of our team today.



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