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A closer look at undue influence in California

Torrance Probate and Estate Planning Attorney

A closer look at undue influence in California

Thanks to the Baby Boomers, the number of people age 65 and older is steadily increasing. In fact, by 2030, these individuals are expected to make up nearly 20% of the population, which is more than a 50% increase compared to those in that age bracket back in 2000. This means that many more estates will be changing hands in the years to come, with many of these older individuals’ family members winding up with newfound wealth.

Yet, not everyone is happy with the way that their loved one’s estate is distributed. In some instances, an individual may be utterly surprised by the terms contained within a will or a trust. Under these circumstances many Californians find themselves asking whether undue influence has occurred. If so, then legal action may be taken to invalidate a will in favor of a more fair estate distribution plan.

Proving undue influence can be difficult, though, primarily because the phrase is so slippery. However, California law does provide significant statutory guidance that individuals can utilize to analyze their situations and determine an appropriate course of action.

When determining whether undue influence has occurred, a judge and jury will consider a number of factors. The first element is the vulnerability of the testator. If he or she was not of sound mind at the time of an estate plan’s crafting, than it may be easier to show undue influence. Other factors to consider are the amount of power and authority an accused individual held over the testator, any relevant evidence of influencing actions taken by an accused individual, and the fairness of the outcome.

It is worth noting that a successful undue influence case must show more than just one of these factors. An unfair result, for example, is not enough to show that the testator was unduly influenced. However, an unfair result coupled with evidence that a brother withheld the testator’s mental health medication at the time a will was drafted may strongly support an undue influence case. These matters are highly fact-specific, and they can be challenging to prove. However, an attorney who is experienced in estate litigation may be able to help create a legal strategy that presents a compelling case to the judge and jury.