When you read or hear about an estate that was challenged on the grounds of undue influence, you can bet that both sides of that proceeding are in for a long and bumpy ride. When a will or estate is challenged on the grounds of undue influence, it can cause the estate to be tied up in probate for a very long time. If you and your family want to avoid this potential mess, then there are some steps you can take to avoid the spectre of undue influence.
With a trust, an estate is handled in a more organized manner than a will. To help avoid the possibility of undue influence, a trust owner can have several other people who have voting power in the trust to balance any decisions that are made.
A trust also tends to incorporate the property of many generations at the same time. It is much more difficult for a family member to prove there was undue influence in the decisions made in a trust when that family member has property in the trust and a say in what happens. Trusts also do not go through probate, so challenging a trust is much more difficult.
It is not uncommon for people with means to create a new will each time they remarry, or whenever there is a baby born into the family. The problem with multiple wills is that the paper trail never really goes away. If probate finds there is cause to void a will due to undue influence, then the court may decide that the previous will becomes valid and that would change the entire probate process.
Most people with means should have trusts instead of wills, or wills as part of a trust. A will should be updated and not replaced, to avoid any confusion when it comes time to go through probate. Creating a paper trail of voided wills is only going to create an environment that welcomes undue influence challenges, and causes issues with the probate process.
One of the ways to avoid charges of undue influence is to have your family members present when you make changes to your will, or when you create a new will. It is difficult for someone to claim undue influence when it was recorded that they were present when a will was finalized or updated.
Some cases of undue influence occur when a younger person enters an older person's life and cuts that person off from their family. In this instance, a charge of undue influence could protect the family from the devious plans of a young and opportunistic individual. But if the family is kept in the loop on estate changes after a younger person has entered the older person's life, then charges of undue influence can be more challenging.
Any will can be contested for any reason, but not every probate court will want to listen to every challenge. Proving undue influence can be extremely difficult, but it is a tool families have to prevent unforeseen circumstances from unfairly altering a will. At the same time, steps can be taken during a person's life to prevent the possibility of a successful undue influence challenge when their will goes through the probate process.