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Maumee Probate Litigation Blog

How to contest a will because of undue influence

When a loved one passes away, it's a profound loss. This loss can reverberate through your life and the lives of family members. As you grieve this passing, the loved one's estate is often distributed. You may expect that their directives and wishes will be faithfully executed in the last testament and will.

But that is not always the case. Your loved one's will may have been rewritten or altered to unfairly or inappropriately benefit others. These amendments to the will may have diminished your inheritance or possibly excluded you. When these or similar circumstances arise, you may dispute the validity of the will and question if someone exerted undue influence over the estate holder. Under Ohio law, you can challenge the will in probate court.

Factors that indicate undue influence

In cases of undue influence, someone has coerced the testator. Either motivated by greed or spite, this person has manipulated the testator to either gain property or exclude another family member. The following factors typically constitute undue influence:

· The estate holder was in a vulnerable mental or physical state

· Evidence of improper influence over the testator

· A slanted will that is not fair or equitable

Illnesses, dementia and many other issues can make elderly testators vulnerable. Unscrupulous people often recognize these deficits and take advantage of an opportunity for their personal benefit.

Challenging the will in probate court

In most cases, family members do not contest a will in probate court. However, under certain circumstances, wills have been unfairly and unduly altered. If this is the case, the will does not contain the testator's actual instructions and wishes.

Under Ohio law, you can contest the will but you should be prepared to establish proof your loved one was under undue influence. You need to gather all documents, letters, emails, text messages and any other correspondence to support your claim. An attorney can often help identify evidence that the court will accept.

When stepparents exert undue influence on a last will

Many children of divorce struggle to accept their parents' decision to end the marriage, even many years later. The unresolved emotions from the dissolution of the family often impact the relationship that the children have with their parents' new romantic partners. When a parent begins dating or remarries, those are sure signs that hopes for the family to reunite are futile.

Adult children can usually quell their negative feelings about a divorce or at least keep them to themselves. However, all of that resentment may bubble to the surface when a remarried parent dies. Sometimes, the death of a loved one results in a second shock when the last will reveals that the stepparent has effectively replaced the children as beneficiaries.

Do you have to worry about that in terrorem clause?

There are many valid reasons why an heir or family member may need to bring a challenge to a will or estate plan. Maybe you suspect that the executor or trustee is violating their duty for personal profit. Perhaps there is evidence that there was undue influence on your loved one before changes were made to the will.

It's also possible that the most recent version of the will resulted from decisions made during a period of diminished capacity for the testator. As a beneficiary or heir, you have the legal right in the state of Ohio to bring a challenge against either the estate plan itself or the executor. However, there are potentially consequences to bringing a challenge.

Challenging a will because of undue influence

When it comes time for one generation to pass on an estate to the next through a will, conflicts often arise over the validity of the document. This is particularly true when one beneficiary believes that another beneficiary used their influence on the will's creator to better their position. Many families have seen long-suffering tensions between siblings, parents, and other family members erupt after the reading of a will makes it clear that one party benefits unfairly from the will's terms.

Of course, without a strong legal strategy to reach a fair resolution, every party involved in this kind of conflict may lose out in the end, draining the resources they are fighting to control through legal expenses and mismanagement of valuable assets. If you believe that you have grounds to challenge a will because someone else used undue influence to steer the will's terms, make sure to use the legal tools and guidance around you to keep your rights and priorities secure before it is too late.

Estate battles: When sentimental items matter most

Your parents made an estate plan and it very clearly laid out what should be done with their financial assets. Bank accounts got divided. Investment portfolios got cashed out and split up. Real estate got sold so that you could split the money perfectly. If your parents' estate was worth $1.5 million, you and your two siblings both got just about $500,000.

After all, your parents knew that leaving you an unequal bequest could start an estate dispute. Children want things to be fair and equal. Your parents prioritized that and planned for it.

Celebrity will and estate mistakes to avoid

Even celebrities make estate planning mistakes, but there is something you can learn from them. By not making plans for your estate or not making the right plans, you could end up making your family go through probate or see your assets depleted by taxes.

You'd think that celebrities would have all their finances in order, but that's not always the case. Many die unexpectedly or younger than they thought they would, leaving behind a legacy but also a lack of financial planning.

Challenging a will: Determine if you have good grounds

There are several reasons for challenging a will. While the majority will pass through probate with no issues, around 1 percent of all wills will be contested. The problem with contesting a will is that the person who wrote the will is no longer alive. This makes it very hard for the courts to determine what their wishes would have been.

Courts usually stick closely to what the will says, but there are exceptions to every rule. For instance, if you can show that the will was recently changed before death, then there may be a reason to contest the will and good grounds to do so.Usually, successful challengers are spouses. The most successful grounds show that the person who wrote the will lacked testamentary capacity or was unduly influenced.

Dementia can lead to a loss of testamentary capacity

It is never easy to realize that your loved one isn't the person they used to be. Over time, the elderly do tend to lose some of their mental faculties. This can mean that they're not in a position to make important decisions about their lives. If they do, they could be easily influenced or not fully understand the implications of their actions.

This is a particular problem among people who have dementia. Early on, people with dementia are often still in their right minds and able to make decisions. They may occasionally show signs that they are losing touch with their surroundings, but they snap back to reality quickly and understand how their actions are impacting others.

A lack of capacity can invalidate a will or contract

You loved your parents very much, and when they passed away, you knew you'd be left with many of the assets they owned. What happened next was nothing you could have ever expected. Instead of receiving information about assets that would be distributed to you, you found that many of the assets were being given to the family's newest friend.

That friend was not someone you were comfortable with, and he got a little too close to your parents for comfort. You felt like there was something off with him, and now you think that he manipulated your parents into changing the will and estate plan. Due to undue influence and the fact that your parents struggled with dementia and the inability to make sound decisions, you want to challenge the changes to the estate. Can you?

How can you invalidate a will?

There are a number of circumstances under which you might want to challenge a will. While the majority of wills go through probate with no issues at all, there are times when family members and beneficiaries may have concerns about the decedent's will.

Since the will is designed to speak for a person who is no longer living, it's vital that it's upheld as it was intended. However, if a person was manipulated, threatened or otherwise forced to write or alter their will, there could be a reason to challenge it.

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