What Is Undue Influence In Florida Probate Law?
The very last thing anyone wants to do immediately after experiencing the death of a loved one is to jump into court and endure a heated legal battle over your loved one’s estate. Unfortunately, it is an all-too common reality for many in Florida. This can be particularly true, and particularly heartbreaking to live through, if it seems that your loved one’s estate plan/last will and testament was affected by someone’s undue influence.
Accusations of undue influence are often valid causes of action in court, and may be used to challenge the validity of certain estate plan documents such as a last will and testament, or a trust.
But what is “undue” influence? And how is it proven in court? This article aims to answer some of these questions.
What is Undue Influence?
Undue influence is something that is often alleged as part of an attempt to challenge the validity of a last will and testament. Florida law states that if a last will and testament, or any portion of a last will and testament or trust is proved to have been created via undue influence, the portion of the last will and testament or trust that was procured by this undue influence will be held to be invalid.
While there is not one single statutory definition of undue influence in Florida, it has been discussed by the courts through the years countless times. From these past cases legal experts understand that undue influence can present itself in situations such as over-persuasion of the testator, putting the testator under duress, that the estate document was created due to force, or coercion to the point that the testator’s free will is diminished.
Essentially, the court looks to see if there is evidence of some kind of unequal relationship that resulted in the testator succumbing to the influencer’s will.
How Do You Prove Undue Influence?
Undue influence is considered a type of fraud. This fraud is proven by presenting to the court whatever evidence you might have, to include circumstantial evidence. Because undue influence may not be used publicly or in front of other people, it may be proved via indirect evidence which sufficiently lead to the inference that such undue influence did occur.
Because evidence of undue influence may be hard to find, extensive discovery of estate planning records, medical records, and financial records is usually required to be successful in the allegation. To establish that undue influence occurred, the accuser must present sufficient evidence to prove that the accused beneficiary destroyed the testator’s free will and controlled their thinking to such a degree that the will/trust was essentially the product of the undue influencer’s mind – not of the Testator’s.
The burden of proof – or requirement to prove their position – shifts to the beneficiary that has been accused of undue influence if the accuser can prove undue influence by showing:
- The accused is set to receive a substantial benefit through the Will
- The accused and the testator enjoyed a confidential relationship
- The accused was active in procuring the will
For further information, contact an experienced Estate law or probate law attorney.
Contact Suncoast Civil Law
Nothing is more precious than the legacy of a loved one. If you fear that an individual has exercised undue influence over a loved one, contact the experienced Sarasota probate litigation lawyers at Suncoast Civil law to discuss your case.