Fraud and Undue Influence: A Common Reason for Will Contests

By Daniel A. Perry, Esq.

As a Trusts and Estates attorney, I have seen a lot during my career. I have represented clients during the planning stage, and I have represented families in estate settlement after the death of a loved one. However, I have also represented families when disputes arise among family members during the estate settlement process. Listed below is a common fact scenario when a case proceeds to court regarding an estate settlement.

Joe’s Will Contest

Joe dies following a short illness. In the months leading up to his death, his grandson whom he had not seen in several years came to mend their previously broken relationship. As Joe’s health declined, his grandson took care of him and before his death, they made their peace. However, in the months leading up to his death, Joe decided to change his Will and leave 25% of his estate to his grandson. After Joe’s death, his three children were shocked to see that he left such a large portion to his grandson, whom he did not speak to until months before his death. As a result, Joe’s three children contested the will and sought to exclude the grandson’s 25% share.

This is a very common scenario when it comes to contesting a will or trust. The argument that Joe’s three children would likely use is fraud and undue influence. The argument might state that the grandson exerted undue influence on Joe to get him to change his will. As a result, the three sons are arguing that the grandson’s share should be removed from the Will.

Whether the allegation is true or not, many times this results in Will or Trust contests, court hearings, damaged family relationships, and sometimes even trials. The court is going to presume that Joe knew what he was doing when he changed his will to add his grandson. Therefore, it will be up to Joe’s three sons to present evidence that the grandson committed some act that caused him to change his will.

These acts that the court will be weighing will be fraud and undue influence. Fraud would be that Joe’s grandson presented his newly revised will to him and Joe signed the will, but thought he was signing something else. Undue influence would be that Joe’s grandson influenced him to change his will to name him as the primary beneficiary and Joe was not competent or he was more easily subject to undue influence due to his infirm state.

For More Information

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