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What is undue influence?

On Behalf of | Jan 19, 2023 | Estate Administration & Probate |

One potential reason for an estate dispute during the probate process is when one heir alleges that someone else committed undue influence. This could mean that the estate plan and the will, as they have been written, do not accurately reflect what the person who wrote them actually wanted to have happen.

Undue influence is essentially a form of pressure or manipulation. It’s an effort by one heir to alter the contents of the estate plan, usually so that they get more of the assets than their siblings or the other beneficiaries. The manipulation itself can happen in many different ways, from simply inventing lies about other potential beneficiaries – in an effort to make the elderly person favor one child over the other – to threatening to withhold care and assistance if changes are not made.

Is there a letter of intent?

One thing to consider is that the estate plan may contain a letter of intent. People will often allege undue influence when the estate plan is simply unequal. But the letter of intent could explain why it is unequal, showing that it was done on purpose and not through manipulation. 

An example of this could be a letter explaining that one heir received more financial assets simply because they had more of a specific need for them, while another heir – who is rather well-off on their own and had less need for those assets – may have received less. In many cases, a simple explanation can eliminate the odds of a dispute.

Even so, this demonstrates some of the potential complications with the probate process and why it’s so important for everyone going through it to understand their legal options.