Undue influence is when excessive pressure is put on a testator to write their will in a certain way – pressure that stops short of actually being forced. For instance, if someone the person making the will knows coerces them into making a specific provision for them in their will that would not otherwise have been made, this might well count as undue influence. It is particularly likely to occur where the person wielding undue influence is perhaps in a position of power and the testator is vulnerable in some way.
When contesting a will, if there is solid evidence of undue influence then it is likely that the court dealing with the case will revoke the will entirely.
Undue influence is not one of the most common reasons for disputing a will – partly as it can be hard to prove that undue influence actually took place, especially given the death of the testator who would otherwise have been the prime witness. As a result, other grounds for contesting a will are often used instead – such as the deceased’s mental capacity or lack of knowledge – for example if the testator did not properly understand what they were being asked to sign, or appreciated the value of what they were being asked to gift. There are, however, two particular reasons for considering contesting a will based on undue influence:
• If a person who has influence over the deceased receives a large part of their estate, or a proportion of their estate that would usually be considered inappropriate given their relations with the deceased.
• If a third party has influenced the contents of a will in the favour of a friend or a relative.
If you are going to contest probate on the grounds of undue influence, you will need to be able to provide evidence of either manipulation or coercion. It is important that you speak to your solicitor about your intentions as undue influence cases are usually particularly complex. For instance, it can often be hard to distinguish, or at least to conclusively prove, the differences between valid and perfectly proper persuasion or advice and undue influence itself.
However, if you are successful in your undue influence claim then it is most likely that the will itself will be entirely revoked and as a direct result the estate of the deceased will be treated as intestate. This means that the relevant rules of inheritance will apply, prioritising the spouse and children of the deceased. It’s certainly worth bearing that in mind if you’re considering a will challenge on the grounds of undue influence.
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