So what do you do when you’re left out of your mom’s will and your sisters take practically everything?
Believe it or not, we get this question quite a lot during probate proceedings and many heirs and beneficiaries prematurely assume—well this is an obvious undue influence claim.
The will challenge lawyers at Smith Law in Iowa however recognize that interested parties can only know if they hold a good or bad undue influence case after a well-practiced estate dispute attorney fully examines their evidence.
And here’s another fact—winning an undue influence lawsuit is problematic because unless evidence can show otherwise, probate judges will assume the deceased carried the capacity to understand the testamentary document they were signing and no other person unduly influenced them into executing it.
This means to disqualify a will, it’ll be your attorney’s task to demonstrate the deceased never intended to cut your inheritance but did so because someone else pressured or coerced him or her into doing it.
WHICH FOUR ELEMENTS DO SMITH LAW PROBATE LITIGATORS LOOK FOR WHEN INVESTIGATING UNDUE INFLUENCE CLAIMS?
- Vulnerability of the deceased.
- Apparent authority with intent to influence.
- Active participation to receive improper favors.
- Inequity to the wrongdoer.
Now many advocates can readily argue one or more of the above four elements exist, but to prevail in an undue influence claim, evidence from each area must be convincing and admissible—no opinions and no speculation.
Expert probate litigators win favorable judgments by scrutinizing evidence from the eyes of the wrongdoer, and if all four elements can survive, then they know they have a good prima facie case of undue influence.
Undue influence lawsuits are problematic.
Scrutiny of evidence will show whether you hold a good or bad claim.
Claimants must prove four elements to nullify a will.
HOW DOES THE SMITH LAW FIRM OF IOWA CONSIDER EVIDENCE FROM THE EYES OF THE WRONGDOER?
The easiest way to understand this trustworthy approach is to describe the process in a real life example:
Undue Influence Case Study
Janet planned to leave her estate to her three children, David, Mary, and Gwen equally.
Prior to her death, Janet’s unemployed son lived with her for six years. Mary and Gwen disliked David living in their mom’s home rent free, but they said nothing because their mom enjoyed his company.
One day, David began using his mom’s checking account to buy expensive personal items. Janet knew of the purchases and said nothing at first, but David slowly began acquiring more items secretly and hid the purchases from his mom.
Janet’s bank account quickly became overdrawn, and after a review, learning that her son had spent over $25,000 in two months’ time shocked Janet.
The angry mom then asked David to move out, and he complied. Janet also told Mary and Gwen about their brother’s unauthorized spending, and her daughters agreed to help her mom pay the bank back over time. Mary and Gwen also secured their mother’s account so their brother could never have access again.
After a few years, David’s mother eventually forgave him, but despite this, Janet changed her will just before she died, reducing David’s inheritance 30%, and increasing Mary and Gwen’s to 15% each.
David obtained a copy of his mother’s revised will in probate and subsequently sought the advice of a Smith Law estate dispute attorney to find out if the courts can restore his 30% inheritance loss.
From the Client’s Eyes
David says his two sisters unduly influenced his mother into altering her testamentary documents and believes they did so because they despised him personally. He contends Mary and Gwen used the unauthorized spending spree incident to coerce Janet into reducing his inheritance by 30%. David also affirmed his mother forgave him before she died, and she had consistently treated each of her three children equally.
From the Defendant’s Eyes
Mary and Gwen say that their mother reduced David’s inheritance under her own free will and she was of strong sound mind when she did it. According to the defendants, Janet alone intended her son to receive less of her estate, and Mary and Gwen believe she had a right to do so after David hijacked Janet’s bank account. David’s sisters likewise counterclaim they had no involvement in the reduction of David’s inheritance and did not influence their mom in any way.
Scrutinizing the Evidence
From face value, it may seem that the four elements of undue influence are present in David’s case, but does sufficient evidence exist to nullify Janet’s will when viewing at the case from defendants eyes?
First, David’s argument that Janet would have treated her children equally is merely speculation and opinion. What Smith Law requires to win this case is concrete evidence that satisfies the four elements of undue influence.
- Vulnerability—Does David have medical evidence that demonstrates his mother’s pre-death weak, sick or disabled condition, making her vulnerable to undue influence.
- NO. According to her daughters, Janet was an independent woman of sound mind and capable of taking care of herself.
- Apparent Authority—Did David’s sisters hold positions of authority over his mother?
- NO. Mary and Gwen helped Janet pay back the money she owed to the bank, but this fact alone is not enough to show apparent authority. In other words, unless Smith Law of Iowa can establish a confidential relationship existed between Janet and her daughters, David’s case will most likely fail here.
- Active Participation—Did Mary and Gwen ask Janet to revise her will?
- NO. From the fact pattern above, Janet’s daughters did not separate their mother from David, did not retain a lawyer to modify their mother’s will, nor did they ask her to make changes; Janet did everything on her own and by herself.
- Inequity—Was David’s disinheritance fair and reasonable?
- Probably, yes. David can argue all he wants as to why he thinks his disinheritance is unfair, but Iowa probate case law affirms fairness by itself is NOT sufficient to invalidate a will. And let’s be honest, if Janet really was of sound mind when she altered her will, David fairly got was coming to him.
We unfortunately had to tell David that because evidence shows his mother was not vulnerable and because his sisters never actively participated in modifying Janet’s will, he held no standing to assert an undue influence claim against Mary and Gwen.
EVIDENCE, EVIDENCE AND MORE EVIDENCE
As you may have picked up after reading this case study, evidence is key to winning an undue influence claim, and the more you hold, the better chances you’ll have in quashing a will.
Evidence should also overwhelm all four element areas:
- Sufficient medical records showing incapacity or vulnerability.
- Substantial testimony establishing apparent authority.
- Important witnesses who observed modification of the will.
- Crucial financial documents proving unjust inequity.
Opinion, speculation and arguments on fairness just won’t work.
Click Here to find out more on how the go-to probate litigators in Iowa resolve undue influence lawsuits.