Undue Influence in Florida Estate Litigation
What is an Undue Influence Lawsuit?
“Undue influence” is a specific claim in probate litigation. In a Florida undue influence claim, someone challenges the validity of another person’s Will, Trust, Deed or any other transfers made during life. Undue influence claims often arise when the person who wrote the Will is elderly, in a nursing home or is physically or mentally ailing, making them more susceptible to someone unduly influencing them.
The underlying legal argument of an undue influence challenge is that someone exerted undue influence over the person creating the Will or another testamentary document, rendering the document legally invalid.
For example, if someone created a Will that left all three of his children equal parts of his Estate and then one of his children exercised undue influence on the Testator change Will to leave nothing to his other two children, the children who the Decedent disinherited could bring a cause of action for undue influence.
What Constitutes Undue Influence in Florida?
According to the Second District Court of Appeal in Florida, undue influence occurs when someone exerts “over-persuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances to such a degree that there is the destruction of the free agency and will power of the one making the will.” Heasley v. Evans, 104 So. 2d 854 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1958).
Proving Undue Influence is Not Easy in Florida
Typically, the person bringing the claim of undue influence initially has the legal burden of proof. The Florida Supreme Court in In Re: Estate of Carpenter, 253 So.2d 697 (Fla. 1971).
The following seven factors that could demonstrate the exercise of undue influence:
- The person was present when the decedent wrote his trust or will;
- The person was present when the decedent discussed creating his trust or will;
- The person advised the decedent to hire a lawyer to draft the estate documents;
- The person knew the details of the trust or will before the decedent completed it;
- The person personally directed the attorney as to the contents of the decedent’s will;
- The person was a witness to the signing of the will and had possession of the will after the decedent signed it.
In the event that the challenging party can establish a presumption of undue influence, the burden then shifts to the proponent of the Will that they did not unduly influence the Testator. Florida Courts have stated that the party challenging the Will or Trust can use direct evidence if available as well as circumstantial evidence to prove undue influence.
Let Us Help You in Your Florida Undue Influence Case
Has someone used undue influence in an attempt to change the Will of a loved one? Have you been disinherited from a loved one’s Will unjustly? Let us help you fight for your rights. Pompano Beach estate planning and probate lawyer Mark Manceri has over 30 years of estate and trust litigation experience. Contact his Fort Lauderdale, Florida office for assistance today.