Undue influence is one of the most common reasons that wills are contested. Learning what undue influence is and how it works can help you address this issue.

What Is Undue Influence?

Undue influence is defined as a situation where one person puts undue pressure on another in order to make them change the terms of their will. Undue influence can come in many forms including mental, moral, and physical pressure. To qualify as undue influence, the other person has to have a confidential relationship with the person writing the will, exert pressure to cause a change that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred, and benefit in some way from the change.

A confidential relationship means that the person writing the will, who is called the testator, must have some sort of relationship where they rely on the other person. This can be a reliance on physical care, such as the relationship between an ill person and their nurse, or it can be a reliance on emotional support such as the relationship between a child and their parent. 

undue influence

Examples of Undue Influence

There are many different things that can count as undue influence. A common one consists of a home health aide, doctor, or other health care provider convincing a senior to disinherit their children and leave money to the healthcare provider instead. Undue influence can also occur if a physically ill person’s child or spouse threatens to quit caring for or visiting them if they don’t leave all their assets to the family member.

Undue influence isn’t always an up-front threat to deny care or affection if the beneficiary doesn’t get money in the will. In some cases, undue influence can come in the form of misinformation. For example, one niece might spread lies about her other cousins in order to convince an aunt to leave most of the estate to the niece. 

Keep in mind that undue influence can occur even if the person exerting pressure doesn’t get assets outright. A lawyer pushing their client to leave money to the lawyer’s friend or a pastor pushing the person to leave all their money to a specific charity can also qualify as undue influence.

How to Reduce Chances of Undue Influence

As you can see, there are a lot of situations that can potentially qualify as undue influence. If you’re writing a will that may cause some controversy and worry that your family or friends might suspect undue influence, it’s important to consult with an estate planning lawyer. They can help you make your wishes as clear as possible so that your beneficiaries are less likely to deal with undue influence claims. 

Usually, to deny an undue influence claim, the beneficiary will need to show that they didn’t pressure you in any way, your actions were entirely voluntary, and you were of sound mind when writing the will. You can often do this by having your actions properly witnessed and fully explaining the logic behind your choices. Any unexpected will bequests can be concerning for your friends and family, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can invalidate your will. 

What to Do If You Suspect Undue Influence

If you’re in a situation where you think your loved one was subjected to undue influence before they passed away, you have the ability to assert your claim. The typical process for contesting a will consists of getting an estate litigation lawyer and challenging the will during the probate process. 

In your claim of undue influence, you’ll need to explain who you think influenced the will, how they did so, and what assets you would’ve received if it weren’t for their influence. New Jersey probate courts are usually very cautious about validating wills, so even slightly suspicious circumstances are grounds for a more detailed investigation. At The Knee Law firm, we provide a variety of estate planning and administration services, including probate litigation. To schedule a consultation with a New Jersey estate planning lawyer, call 201-996-1200 or fill out our online contact form.