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Understanding undue influence

Many times, family members do not know the content of a will until the person passes away. Although no one wants to consider that someone could exploit a loved one, it happens. If the will-maker was exploited or taken advantage of in estate planning, the relatives who suspect this can go to probate court to show undue influence. If the judge agrees, the will could be invalid. 

Undue influence is often confused with unsolicited advice. To prove undue influence in Minnesota, the person contesting the will must generally show: 

  • The distribution of the estate occurs in unexpected ways, such as close family members were left out without any explanation.
  • The will-maker trusted or depended on the person who exerted the influence. This could be a lawyer, a caregiver, friend or family member.
  • The will-maker was frail, ill or otherwise susceptible to undue influence.
  • The influencer benefitted from the change in the will.  

Your second cousin who gives a piece of his mind to your mom about the estate probably is not exerting undue influence if your mom is mentally and physically independent. If that cousin moved in with your mom who had mild dementia and subsequently had her rewrite her will to benefit him, that could be undue influence. It would be best to discuss your particular case with an experienced probate lawyer who can assess the situation based on the law. 

Undue influence can be difficult to prove. The will-writer is generally not available to testify. Instead, the person contesting the will has to find witnesses who can attest to the situation. Conflicts over wills are common events, but when there was exploitation of the will-writer, it can be especially painful. If you are concerned about an elderly or ill relative being taken advantage of, you might want to act before the person dies. You have options to ensure the protection of his or her assets. 

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