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A last will and testament is only valid in New York when the person who is making it, known as the testator, freely executed it, was competent to execute it, and followed certain legal formalities. Wills can be challenged in several different ways by interested parties. These parties include beneficiaries of a prior will and heirs. One basis for challenging a will is proving undue influence. With this type of claim, the interested person must show that the testator was manipulated into making a will that wouldn’t have been made otherwise. Undue influence is asserted, in other words, when someone hopes to get hold of the assets and property of a person who is vulnerable or with whom they are in a confidential relationship. Whether you need to bring or defend against a will contest, you should discuss your situation with experienced New York City estate litigation attorney Jules Haas.Undue Influence
Not everyone is entitled to bring an undue influence claim. Rather, only those with standing may challenge the will in this fashion. For instance, heirs who would inherit under the rules of intestacy, such as a spouse and children, are legally entitled to object to the will on the basis of undue influence. Beneficiaries named in the testator’s previous will are also considered interested parties. They can bring a will contest on the grounds of undue influence.
When your attorney is trying to prove undue influence, it must be demonstrated that someone named in a will that’s being probated manipulated the testator into drafting the will in a way that he wouldn’t otherwise have done. In other words, the influence must be moral coercion that the testator couldn’t resist and wasn’t something he would have done without being influenced.
Will contests arising out of undue influence can be hard to establish. The testator has already passed and can’t say what circumstances surrounded the making of the will of the decedent. In some cases, the contents of the will are a complete surprise to beneficiaries who had not been told they were disinherited or removed from the will be the decedent. The court will consider the following factors in finding there was undue influence:
- Whether the testator’s health was deteriorating either mentally or physically.
- Whether the bequests were reasonable given the circumstances.
- Whether the testator was vulnerable or dependent upon the undue influencer, such as when an undue influencer is a caregiver.
- Whether the undue influencer isolated the testator from his or her family.
- Whether the undue influencer secured the witnesses to the will at issue and whether the testator knew them or not.
- Whether the undue influencer was physically present when the will was executed.
- Whether the undue influencer was physically present when the testator stated he or she wanted to draft a will.
- Whether the undue influencer had a prior relationship with the attorney who drafted the will and recommended him or her.
- Whether the undue influencer knew what was in the will before the will named him or was drafted.
- Whether the testator acted secretly, or whether others, such as beneficiaries of a prior will or heirs in the case of intestacy, knew about the terms of the new will.
Simply requesting a bequest or testamentary gift from the testator doesn’t constitute undue influence. For instance, if a friend commented he would like the testator’s classic car when he was visiting, this would not constitute undue influence. Likewise, undue influence is more than a caregiver or other person in relationship with the deceased saying critical things to him about family or relatives who would naturally inherit or who are already specified in the will. Instead, a claim of undue influence arises because there is a relationship of care or financial trust, or another relationship that results in a person pushing the testator into making or changing the will in a way in which he otherwise wouldn’t.
An attorney would need to show that the person who manipulated the testator did, in fact, influence the behavior of the testator. It isn’t enough to show that the person had a chance to influence the testator.Consequences of an Undue Influence Claim
When it is proven the will submitted for probate was subject to undue influence, the last will and testament will be invalidated by the New York Surrogate’s Court. In that case, the prior will should be probated. And if there is no prior will that is enforceable, the estate will be treated according to intestacy rules. For instance, if a decedent left everything to a medical caregiver, but undue influence is found by the court, a surviving spouse or kids may inherit everything.Consult a Seasoned Estate Litigation Attorney
New York City estate litigation attorney Jules Haas may be able to represent you in connection with undue influence claims. Call him for a free consultation. Mr. Haas represents clients in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Kings, Richmond, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. Call him at (212) 355-2575 or contact us through our online form.
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