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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

When a will is the result of undue influence

Minnesota courts don't want to have to second guess what a deceased person meant when they wrote a will, explaining how they want their estate to be distributed after their death. As long as the will was executed with all the formalities and apparently with all the requirements, the court will generally do its best to not interfere. As a result, about 99 percent of wills pass through probate without serious legal issues. But in that remaining one percent, there are many will contests that present thorny legal issues and difficult conflicts.

Anyone with an interest in the outcome can contest a will. For example, a daughter who expected to get at least half her mother's estate in the will may contest her mother's will in court if the will left everything to the mother's housekeeper. One of the most common reasons people cite for contesting a will is undue influence. This means that an interested party exerted some form of manipulation or coercion on the person executing the will, and as a result it would be unjust to distribute the estate according to the will.

Undue influence comes up often in cases in which family members or other people who believed they would inherit something from the deceased find instead that someone else got everything. When they find that this heir was spending a lot of time with the deceased before the will was executed, they may suspect that that person manipulated the deceased into writing the will.

It's important to note that the mere fact that one heir got more than another is not enough in itself to indicate undue influence. There may have been a very good reason for the deceased to have written the will that way. For example, when one adult daughter spent more time caring for her mother than did the adult son, the mother may have given the daughter a greater share in an effort to repay her for her kindness. However, there are an increasing number of cases in which unscrupulous individuals have taken advantage of a lonely, elderly person in an effort to enrich themselves. In those cases, undue influence may make the will invalid.

Minnesota residents who feel that their loved ones were manipulated into signing a will that did not represent their true wishes should get help understanding their legal options. A will contest is a delicate matter and requires planning and research.

Source: Marco Eagle, "It's The Law: Adult child caring for parent does not equal undue influence," William Morris, Aug. 15, 2013

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