Where Is the Line Between Companionship and Undue Influence?
It can be shocking when you lose a loved one and then find out that the will had been changed to leave all or a large part of the estate to someone who had possibly only been friendly with the decedent for a short time. For many loved ones, they may not even realize that the decedent knew the will beneficiary until after their family member died. In such a situation, those who were potential beneficiaries will usually opt for trying to get the will overturned, with the proponents defending the will, both with the assistance of their respective Miami estate attorneys.
What many people do not understand, however, is that simply being friendly with an elderly person in their later years and having an advantage in the will is not enough to be declared, in itself, undue influence. If there is a perfectly legitimate explanation for why a person was favored in the will, the chances of it being overturned are not so good.
An example of this would be if the care of an elderly parent fell entirely on the shoulders of one child, while the other children didn’t really have any involvement or contact with that parent. In a case such as that, it would be considered more understandable why the parent would desire to leave their estate to their caregiver.
If, however, that person actually unduly influenced the decedent, that would be a different story, where a successful Miami will challenge would be possible.
To prove undue influence under Florida law, a number of different factors must be met, with proving a confidential relationship playing a significant role. Because most of the time, the influence that someone uses against someone to change their will is not done blatantly or in front of witnesses, this can lead to undue influence being a difficult thing to prove by personal account, with the courts having to rely on inferences and circumstantial evidence.
There are a number of factors that can be taken into account to prove that undue influence was used, however, including the testator being ill, impaired or not entirely competent or the person accused of undue influence isolating the testator.
Active procurement is not easy to prove. Under this test, the courts will look at a number of factors to determine how far the beneficiary went to convince the decedent to make a will in their favor. In the determining case for these factors, In re Estate of Carpenter, seven potential signals of there being active procurement were set forth by the court:
1. The beneficiary being at the execution of the will,
2. The beneficiary being there when the testator said they wanted to make the will,
3. The beneficiary recommending an attorney to draft the will,
4. The beneficiary knowing what the will said before it was even executed,
5. The beneficiary giving instructions about the will to the attorney,
6. The beneficiary finding witnesses to the execution of the will, and
7. The Beneficiary holding on to the will.
While these may be signs that the person who benefited from the will used undue influence, it is not a bright line test. It is very likely that a person had a legitimate reason for any of these factors, especially in the case of caregivers. This means that there does need to be more proof given than just that someone was in the same room when a will was signed leaving them everything.
If you suspect that someone used undue influence to get a will changed to their benefit, the first thing that you need to do is to find a Miami estate attorney to go over all of the evidence and help you determine where to go from there.
For a free case evaluation, give us a call at (786) 522-1411 and speak with a Miami estate attorney today.