Few things are more upsetting than shocking surprises in your loved one’s estate plan. Whether they added a new beneficiary who isn’t even part of your family or redistributed their estate so that one person inherits far more than anyone else, your family members may question whether their testamentary documents reflect their wishes or the influence of the party that benefited from those changes.
If you are able to prove that the undue influence of a caregiver or family member was the reason that your loved one changed their estate plan, the courts may rule in your favor when you contest a will or other estate planning documents.
What happens after the probate courts agree that undue influence affected the details of someone’s plan?
There are two typical solutions possible
The judges presiding over probate litigation often have to weigh the perceived intentions of the deceased testator with the expectations of their family members and loved ones. State law also plays a role in the power of the courts to resolve disputes about the validity or accuracy of someone’s estate plan. Any number of solutions are possible, but there are two common outcomes when a judge agrees that undue influence compromised the usefulness of existing estate documents.
They might agree to uphold prior estate documents, provided that they are in compliance with state law and consistent with the testator’s wishes. If family members or the attorney of the deceased can produce a prior document that does not include terms influenced by a third party, the courts may revert to that older estate plan and use that to guide the distribution of property.
When there isn’t a prior estate planning document available or when there are questions about the legitimacy of such documents, the probate courts may instead treat the estate as though the testator died without a will. Intestate succession laws will then determine who inherits what property from the estate. These laws tend to favor close family members, with spouses and children having primary inheritance rights before other, more extended family members.
Know what can happen before you go to court
If you intend to challenge someone’s estate plan, then it is important that you determine whether you have the legal grounds to do so and the likely outcome of such litigation. By learning more about state law, you will be able to make a more informed decision about the right solution to an unexpected inclusion in someone’s estate plan.
Pursuing probate litigation can help unfairly affected by the misconduct or undue influence of others.