As you read your loved one’s will, you may believe that a specific bequest would never have been made unless someone pressured the testator. If you think an heir was given assets because the testator was being coerced or intimidated, the testator may have been under undue influence when writing the will.
In Louisiana, an heir may dispute a will if they think the testator was pressured to include provisions or exclude people from the will in a way that does not reflect the testator’s intent and benefits the person who exerted the undue pressure or influence.
When You Might Suspect Undue Influence
Even if people exert influence or pressure over a testator to include specific provisions or to exclude certain people from a will, that’s not the same as undue influence. If a testator is able to make independent decisions, someone providing an opinion about what should be included in the will should not cause the testator to change the will unless they want to do so.
Undue influence occurs when someone in a position of power or trust uses excessive pressure to cause the testator to change the will in ways that the testator does not want to do. Typically, undue influence may include:
- Deception. Your loved one may not have known what was happening.
- Threats. Your loved one might have worried about their own safety, your safety, or the safety of other loved ones if they did not act.
- Isolation. The person exerting the influence may have isolated your loved one from you and other relatives and friends, so the will could be changed.
How to Prove Undue Influence
It’s not unusual for family members to find out about undue influence after their loved one dies and it’s too late for that loved one to create a new will. The person who unduly influenced your loved one didn’t want you to know that changes had been made to the will. Therefore, you likely weren’t present when your loved one created the will, and you probably didn’t know about it while your loved one was still alive.
However, it’s not too late to protect your loved one’s rights. You may raise the issue of undue influence with the court by contesting the will. Generally, you will need to prove that:
- The will makes unusual and unexpected bequests that don’t make sense given the testator’s relationships and behavior.
- The testator was suspectable to extraordinary pressure or undue influence, perhaps because of an illness, old age, or the nature of their relationship with the person exerting the influence.
- The person exerting the undue influence benefits from the will, and the will reflects what the influencer wanted rather than what the testator wanted.
With a few exceptions, testators may leave property to anyone they want. Therefore, you need convincing evidence that the will does not reflect the testator’s wishes because of undue influence. This evidence may include:
- Witnesses who knew the testator. Witnesses may include relatives, friends, doctors, other caregivers, financial advisors, and lawyers.
- Previous versions of the will. All versions of your loved one’s wills and codicils may be relevant evidence.
- Information about your loved one’s mental capacity. If your loved one was suspectable to undue influence, your loved one’s mental capacity would be relevant to your case.
Typically, the person bringing the undue influence case to the court has the burden of proving that undue influence occurred. However, if the person who allegedly exerted undue influence had a fiduciary relationship with your loved one, that person may have the burden of proving that they did not exert undue influence.
Contact a New Orleans Estate Litigation Attorney for Help
You should carefully consider whether your loved one was the victim of undue influence if anything about the will appears strange and your loved one was in a position where undue influence may have occurred.