Understanding the Nuances: How Undue Influence Can Impact Will Validity

Wills are undoubtedly sensitive things. The process of crafting one, finalising one, and then distributing it should be handled with the greatest of care and sensitivity, not just for the testator, but for the beneficiaries who are involved.

Cases of undue influence have risen in the last decade, and while direct evidence of undue influence isn’t usual, there have been recent cases where judges have determined its occurrence. If you are crafting a will and want to make the process as easy as possible for beneficiaries – avoiding potential disputes and the need for hiring will dispute solicitors – this is one of the key issues you need to understand.

What is Undue Influence?

This starts with understanding what undue influence means. For those unaware, undue influence occurs when an individual coerces another party into making decisions. This occurs to the detriment of the weaker party – in this case, the testator – and the gain of the influential party.

How Can Undue Influence Impact Will Validity?

As a testator, you are writing a will that reflects your wishes and desires for the distribution of your estate. If there is anything that does not accurately reflect your desires, then it’s likely there is a party exerting undue influence – forcing your hand into decisions either through emotional manipulation, coercion, or exploitation of your vulnerabilities.

This undue influence then undermines the integrity of your will, as it no longer reflects your free will or intent. If a court determines that this is the case, then some of the provisions included in the document might be invalidated – or worse, the entire will may be deemed void.

Those found guilty of undue influence can also face civil penalties, including the loss of inheritance rights and potentially even criminal charges.

Understanding the Nuances of Undue Influence

Undue influence doesn’t just refer to a person who actively, explicitly, and obviously forces a testator’s hand – if it did, every case would be pretty open and shut. It can instead be more nuanced. Say the testator is going through a time of emotional turmoil – creating a will after a loved one has passed, for instance – and a certain family member is isolating them.

The testator might then feel pressured into making a decision dictated by their negative mental state, and therefore do not accurately reflect their wishes in their will.

Undue influence can also occur if a family member reacts angrily to certain aspects of the will, such as a property being shared equally between various people. This reaction of anger – while the testator is isolated and mentally vulnerable – can then cloud the testator’s judgement and lead them to make a pressured decision.

How to Avoid Undue Influence

In order to avoid undue influence, you need to take proactive steps. These include choosing trusted advisors – seeking advice from reputable legal and financial professionals – maintaining your independence without pressure from others, limiting access to sensitive information, and documenting your decision-making every step of the way. By doing this, you can ensure your estate plan is less susceptible to external manipulation, and there are no issues further down the road.