Losing a loved one is hard enough, but learning that you were not included in their estate plan may be devastating, especially when this comes as a complete surprise. You would be shocked, and likely angry, to learn that your parent executed a new will shortly before their death, leaving a larger portion than expected to an estranged relative or someone you never thought was close to your parent.  Being disinherited may be a result of undue influence.

In some circumstances, the decedent may have been “unduly influenced” in executing their will. The term “undue influence” refers to such influence as to destroy the free will of the person executing the will. In a will contest, the person contesting the will would have to show that the decedent was inappropriately influenced in making the will or estate plan. In Missouri, there is a presumption of undue influence if there was a fiduciary or confidential relationship between the decedent and the person who is accused of inappropriately influencing the decedent, this person received a substantial benefit from the decedent and this person caused the decedent to make the will in question.

Although this fact pattern may appear common, undue influence is hard to prove. Influence that comes from common relationships would not invalidate a will. For instance, your sibling may be closer to your parents than you, and may live close to your parents and help take care of them. A court would be unlikely to find undue influence if your sibling received a larger share of your parents’ estate. Influence due to advice, kindness or services rendered likely won’t support claims for this type of influence.

The first step in determining whether undue influence applies to a set of facts is to determine whether the decedent was of such a mental condition to be unduly influenced. This is hard to prove, as the decedent must have been susceptible to undue influence at the time they executed the will, not just in general. Overall, undue influence cases are difficult to prove and are usually mentally taxing on the parties to the litigation. If you think there was any instance of undue influence, you should examine the situation carefully and critically and contact an attorney who handles fiduciary litigation.