What Does It Take to Prove Undue Influence in Florida?
There may be times when a beneficiary of a will improperly exerts pressure on the testator or coerces the testator to create a will or trust which favors the beneficiary over the testator’s other loved ones. This is known as “undue influence”. Proof that a will was procured due to undue influence can be grounds to invalidate the will, trust, or other testamentary document at issue.
What exactly do you need to prove undue influence?
Traditionally, there are seven “Carpenter factors” (as described by In re Estate of Carpenter, a Florida court case from 1971) that the court will look at to determine whether undue influence was present during the making of a will or trust:
- Presence of the beneficiary at the execution of the will;
- Presence of the beneficiary on those occasions where the testator expressed a desire to make a will;
- Recommendation by the beneficiary of an attorney to prepare the will;
- Knowledge of the contents of the will by the beneficiary prior to execution;
- Giving of instructions on preparation of the will by the beneficiary to the attorney drafting the will;
- Securing of witnesses to the will by the beneficiary; and
- Safekeeping of the will by the beneficiary subsequent to execution
These factors being present are evidence that a beneficiary “actively procured” the Will. Once it is established that the beneficiary “actively procured” the Will, a presumption of undue influence applies to the transaction and the burden of proof shifts to the person accused of procuring the will to prove that the will was not the product of undue influence.
When you are building a case to prove undue influence, it is crucial to collect evidence for as many of the above-listed Carpenter factors as you can.
In some cases, the testator’s other relatives and loved ones will be your best asset. They can testify if the beneficiary in question made remarks about changing the will, drafting the will in private, barred others from speaking about the will, and so on.
Consult your lawyer about what can be done to contact the attorney who prepared the will and learn more about the process, or to prove the beneficiary’s involvement in the procurement of the will.
Additional Things to Consider
It is possible for a beneficiary to fight back against allegations of undue influence, especially if they had a very close relationship with the testator. This is just one of many reasons why it is so important to work with a lawyer who possesses the specific experience you need and a track record of success in these types of cases.
A knowledgeable probate attorney understands how to use the following three factors to solidify your claim of undue influence against someone:
- Isolation of testator or family members; How many other family members were present while the will was made; How many family members were aware of meetings between the beneficiary and the testator;
- Mental inequality between testator and beneficiary which is especially important if the testator eventually became mentally incapacitated. If the will was drafted shortly before that time, they may have been losing mental capacity, and have been more easily influenced by the beneficiary; and
- Reasonableness of will or trust provisions. Do the estate planning documents make sense? Simply pointing out the lack of logic may help to strengthen your case.
Will contests can certainly be tricky. To give yourself the best chance at success, make sure a skilled Florida probate lawyer is by your side throughout the process. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.