Undue Influence: One Basis for Contesting A Will Or Trust In Michigan
Will contests and trust contests occur for many reasons, from a family member’s concern with being left out of a parent’s estate plan to a complex disagreement over a deceased loved one’s specific intent about a particular asset. A host of legal issues can be raised in probate litigation, including the testator’s lack of capacity, proper execution of the will, forgery, conflicts with other instruments such as trusts, and potential contradictions caused by amendments (codicils) to a will.
What Is Undue Influence?
One issue that may be raised by a party who contests a will or other estate planning instrument is that the testator was subject to undue influence before signing the will. Unfortunately, older individuals and those who suffer from a mental disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s can be at a higher risk for undue influence. Common examples of undue influence include:
- Using deception to convince the testator to designate an asset, eliminate a beneficiary or make other determinations
- Coercing the person to sign a will by threatening to disclose harmful information
- Withholding medicine or services to influence a person’s decisions about how an estate will be divided
Undue influence can be attributed to a caregiver, new spouse, family member or other party, but that person must stand to benefit from his or her actions and must have had a fiduciary relationship with the decedent. The legal standard looks to the decedent’s exercise of judgment.
Influence rises to the level of “undue” if the decedent’s free will was overpowered and he or she acted in accordance with another person’s will. But this does not mean that a family member or close friend cannot legitimately try to persuade the testator or appeal to his or her sense of fairness.
A Michigan Probate Litigation Attorney Can Contest Or Defend A Will In Court
Not just anyone has legal standing to challenge a will or trust: The party must either be designated as a beneficiary (the legal term for a will beneficiary is “devisee”) or be eligible to inherit under Michigan’s intestacy statute (which governs situations where a valid will does not exist). The party alleging undue influence has the burden of proving the allegations to the probate court.
A consultation with our Michigan estate planning law firm is a good first step. We have significant experience handling will and trust disputes and other probate litigation — we can help potential clients assess the prospects of undue influence allegations in their particular case. Exacting preparation of evidence and a comprehensive understanding of Michigan case law and statutes are crucial to success in any probate matter that involves a contested estate.