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Undue Influence

A Will can be deemed invalid if it is determined it was complete under undue influence, meaning the testator has been coerced into making the Will

Determining whether undue influence has occurred depends on the factual circumstances of each case, with the burden of proof falling on the individual making the assertion. It’s not sufficient to merely demonstrate that the facts align with the hypothesis of undue influence, but it must be proven that the facts are inconsistent with any alternative explanation, which places a significant evidential burden on those contesting the validity of a Will on the grounds of undue influence.

Undue influence is established when pressure, regardless of its form, overwhelms the testator’s own decision-making. To challenge a Will on these grounds, the challenger must demonstrate several elements:

  • The defendant had the opportunity to exert influence.
  • Influence was indeed exerted.
  • The influence exerted was inappropriate.
  • The Will was a product of this influence.

Certain actions do not support claims of undue influence, including providing genuine assistance to the deceased, the deceased’s gratitude, familial bonds, religious or cultural factors, appeals to affection, or appeals concerning destitution.

Conversely, threats, violence, and exerting control would be seen as undue influence.

Pressure leading a testator to yield for the sake of peace, if it overrides their independent judgment, discretion, or desires, constitutes coercion. The physical and mental state of the testator is crucial in determining the level of pressure required to overcome their will, as weaker and more fragile individuals may be more susceptible.

Additionally, fraudulent calumny provides a separate basis for challenging a Will. This occurs when someone intentionally poisons the testator’s mind against a rightful beneficiary by spreading false accusations about their character, potentially leading to the Will being invalidated. However, for the Will to be challenged the individual spreading these falsehoods knows they are untrue or be indifferent to their truthfulness.

Challenging a Will based on undue influence is tricky and to do so there must be positive evidence of coercion must be presented and no other reasonable explanation for the terms of the Will

However, direct proof of undue influence is seldom available since it typically occurs behind closed doors. In such cases, circumstantial evidence must be meticulously compiled. The stronger and more aligned this evidence is, the less stringent the court may be in requiring direct proof of undue influence. Key evidence may include:

  • the defendant’s opportunistic behaviour
  • prior familial dynamics
  • financial interests
  • dependency of the testator
  • domineering personality of the defendant
  • control over communication with the testator and poisoning of the testator’s perception against challengers
  • Additionally, the absence of alternative explanations, the testator’s vulnerability, deviations from past Will-making patterns, and the challenger’s status as a natural beneficiary are significant factors.

Challenging a Will on the grounds of undue influence necessitates a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding its preparation and execution.

If you are in a situation where you feel someone has exerted undue influence and you have been left out of a Will, get in touch.

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