Undue Influence In Making A Will In Washington State
Disgruntled would-be heirs frequently attack wills on the grounds of undue influence, particularly when wills contain provisions unfavorable to them. The dispossessed heir might assume that the will must have been the product of undue influence because the unfavorable provision could not have been what the testator intended. For example: “Surely, Dad would not have only left me his $5,000 car and given the house to my sister! This had to be her undue influence over him!”
However, the mere fact that a would-be heir received less than what they thought they would get will not invalidate a will in a court of law. “Undue influence” sufficient to invalidate a will must be something more than mere influence, but rather influence which, at the time the will was made, “controlled the volition of the testator, interfered with his free will, and prevented an exercise of his judgment and choice.”
The party attacking a will on the ground of undue influence bears the burden of proof, but certain suspicious facts and circumstances can raise a presumption of undue influence. The most important of these include: (1) that the influencer occupied a fiduciary or confidential relation to the testator; (2) that the influencer actively participated in the preparation or procurement of the will; and (3) that the beneficiary received an unusually or unnaturally large part of the estate. Courts will also consider the age or condition of heal and mental vigor of the testator, the nature or degree of relationship between the testator and the beneficiary, the opportunity for exerting an undue influence, and the naturalness or unnaturalness of the will.
Matters involving undue influence in making a will can be delicate affairs that must be handled on a case-by-case basis. It is advisable to seek competent and experienced legal counsel in such matters. Fortunately, the lawyers at Beresford Booth hold the experience necessary to handle all your estate planning and probate needs, including questions surrounding undue influence and the validity of wills. We would be pleased to sit down with you today and help meet your estate planning needs.