A person is generally free to give their property to whomever they please via a will, aside from certain rules relating to providing for spouses such as California’s community property rules. But when a testator (the person who makes the will) makes or changes a will due to “undue influence” by a person taking advantage of them, that portion of the will will be considered void in California, regardless of whether the person exerting the undue influence is a friend, family member, or anyone else for that matter. Proving undue influence is challenging, but it is often worth it when the gifts that were wrongly taken from their rightful beneficiaries are substantial. Below is a brief overview of how to prove undue influence in California.
Defining Undue Influence
The first step in proving undue influence is knowing what it is. Undue influence is not simply changing someone’s mind about their will creating an unfair result. Again, testators are free to distribute their assets as they so desire, even if those desires seem arbitrary, unreasonable, or downright unfair to longtime friends and family members. Instead, undue influence is when a person utilizes physical, mental, or moral coercion which subverts the genuine desire or sound judgment of the testator at the time they make or change or the will.
Proving Undue Influence
Proving coercion is a high standard, but it is not uncommon for older individuals and those suffering from illnesses or afflictions to be in a physical or mental state where undue influence can be exerted by another. A jury will ultimately decide whether undue influence is present, and will consider the following factors in making that determination:
- the physical and mental condition of the testator
- whether the person allegedly exerting undue influence had the opportunity to exert that influence with the testator (i.e. was the person a lawyer, caregiver, etc.)
- whether the person allegedly exerting undue influence played a role in the creation or modification in the will and whether that person benefited from the change in the will
- the level of deviations between the previous and new will
The person contesting the change in the will bears the burden of proving undue influence, but, by working with an experienced California probate attorney, you can make sure that all evidence in your favor is clearly presented to the judge and jury in your matter.
See What a Pasadena Probate Attorney Can Do For You
Christopher B. Johnson is an estate planning and probate attorney in Pasadena, CA who has helped thousands of individuals and families over the past 18 years in issues of estate planning and probate administration and disputes. Schedule a consultation with him today to discuss your estate planning or probate goals.