The inheritance rights of loved ones are defeated if the testator is under the undue influence of another. To set aside a will on the basis of a claim of undue influence the contestant must prove…
- the existence and exercise of an influence upon the testator,
- which operated to subvert or overpower the testator’s mind at the time the will was executed, and…
- such that the execution would not have occurred but for the undue influence.
The doctrine of undue influence derives from English courts. A will contest heard by Sir Francis Bacon as the Lord Chancellor of England in 1617 illustrates common aspects of the process of undue influence which emerged in the context of a will contest. These aspects include frail health, and physical dependency, false affection, relationship poisoning, threats and mistreatment, and involvement in the execution of documents by and in favor of the alleged abuser.
The courts have defined the question as whether “. . . the testator’s free agency was destroyed and . . . his will overcome by excessive importunity, imposition or fraud, so that the will does not, in fact, express his wishes as to the disposition of the property, but those of the persons exercising the influence.”
“The exercise of undue influence may be accomplished in many different ways – directly and forcibly, as at the point of a gun; but also by fraud, deceit, artifice and indirection; by subtle and devious, but nonetheless forcible and effective means.”
Undue influence “may be exercised through threats or fraud or the silent power of a strong mind over a weak one.”
Relationship poisoning may be a sign of undue influence.