If a person’s will leaves a surprising or unexpectedly large gift to a particular beneficiary or cuts someone out completely who would have expected to inherit, then this can raise suspicions amongst other family members. This is especially the case if the person was particularly old or vulnerable at the time the will was made. A person is free to leave their estate to whoever they wish, but the decisions that they make should be their own and should have been made free from any undue pressure or influence from a third party. If it wasn’t then that would make the will invalid.
What is undue influence?
For a will to be found invalid as a result of undue influence it has to be shown that the individual who made the will had been coerced into making it. This coercion has to been at such a level that it overpowered the true wishes of that individual. Simply persuading someone to benefit them in their will is not on its own enough to amount to undue influence.
If a person had poisoned the mind of the individual making the will against one of the other potential beneficiaries of the estate, then that may be sufficient to amount to undue influence. Undue influence can also be inferred from the circumstances surrounding the making of the will.
How can undue influence be proved?
Though undue influence is a very common allegation that solicitors hear from disgruntled family members, it can in practice be very difficult to prove. There are only a handful of reported cases where the will was overturned on the grounds of undue influence. The allegation that someone has improperly pressured another person to make their will in their favour is very serious. It is equivalent to fraud. Therefore there is a high burden of proof and the court would want compelling evidence before they ruled that the will was invalid on those grounds. It’s not enough to show that the facts of the case are consistent with undue influence. For undue influence to be found then it must be shown that the facts are not consistent with any other possible explanation. This is very hard to show as they is very often another explanation. It’s important that if there is any suggestion that a will was made as a result of undue pressure or undue influence by a third party, that matters are fully investigated and evidence obtained before any allegation is made. Therefore anyone who has concerns about this should act promptly and take specialist legal advice.