What Kinds of Behaviors Are Considered “Undue Influence”?
In order for a will to be valid in the state of Florida, it must meet several requirements, including that the testator (the person making the will) has the requisite mental capacity to execute a will. Concerns about the testator’s capacity, such as the testator suffering from dementia or a drug or alcohol addiction, can call the validity of the will into question. The will’s validity can also be called into question if there is evidence that the testator’s will was overpowered or manipulated by someone else, which is known as “undue influence.”
Signs of Undue Influence
Whenever undue influence is alleged, there are normally two parties involved: the testator and the influencer. In most cases, the testator and influencer share a “confidential relationship” in which the testator trusts in and relies heavily on the influencer. In re Estate of Carpenter, 253 So. 2d 697, 701 (Fla. 1971). The Florida Supreme Court stated in Carpenter that there are seven key factors courts should consider when determining whether there has been undue influence in the procurement of a will:
- The influencer-beneficiary was present at the execution of the will
- The influencer-beneficiary was present on occasions when the testator expressed a desire to make a will
- The influencer-beneficiary recommended an attorney to draft the will
- The influencer-beneficiary had knowledge of the contents of the will before it was executed
- The influencer-beneficiary gave instructions to the will’s drafting attorney
- The influencer-beneficiary provided witnesses to the execution of the will, and
- The influencer-beneficiary kept physical possession of the will subsequent to its execution. Id. at 702.
A few additional signs that a testator may have been unduly influenced include:
- The will disposes of property in ways that one would not expect
- The testator was subject to influence due to illness or mental frailty
- The influencer benefited from the will in such a way that he or she would not be entitled to otherwise
- The influencer is not a family member or close friend of the testator
- The influencer exercises an inappropriate level of control over the testator, including prohibiting them from seeing or communicating with family and friends
Proving Undue Influence in Court
The Florida Statutes provide for a burden-shifting mechanism in probate cases in which undue influence is alleged. Florida courts presume that undue influence is present where “a substantial beneficiary under a will occupies a confidential relationship with the testator and is active in procuring the contested will.” Id. at 701. Once the party alleging undue influence shows this, the burden then shifts to the proponent of the will to prove that the will was not the product of undue influence. However, not all influencers are necessarily named beneficiaries in a will. For example, an influencer could collude with a legitimate beneficiary to increase his or her share of the testator’s estate in exchange for a portion of the profits. In those cases, the plaintiff must demonstrate undue influence using other circumstantial evidence.
Contact a Boca Raton Will Challenge Attorney
Are you concerned that a family member or close friend was subject to undue influence in the execution of their will? If so, you should contact a skilled Boca Raton probate attorney who will be able to help you identify evidence that could indicate undue influence and preserve it to challenge the validity of the will. To get started, schedule a consultation with the attorneys at the Ellis Law Group by contacting us online or calling 561-910-7500.