By GNGF on September 3rd, 2022 in
How Can Undue Influence Be Legally Proven? Undue influence is one of the most common issues to arise when challenging a will or any other estate planning document in Arizona. This term refers to the act of influencing an individual in creating or altering the terms of a will. If you suspect that your beloved was influenced in altering or creating a will, it is advisable to contact an Arizona estate litigation attorney immediately.
The same applies when you want to challenge any other estate planning document, such as a trust, you believe was written out of undue influence. Again, your attorney will review your situation and determine whether there is a valid case of undue influence.
In some cases, there is a presumption of undue influence.
In many cases, the party challenging the will or other document will have to prove undue influence. Not all influence is “undue influence.” “Undue influence” is where the influencer convinced the decedent/testator to disregard their own wishes and implement the influencer’s desires instead. Here are a few examples of factors that could help prove undue influence.
One of the key factors is whether a beneficiary of the estate lied to or deceived the decedent. The fraudulent activity generally should be material to the testator’s decisions in executing the will.
Usually, people take their time to deliberate before signing such an important document. A will or trust that was hastily executed could be a sign of undue influence.
If the beneficiary of the will participated in drafting the will and executing it, this could be a case of undue influence. One might argue that the beneficiary wanted to protect their selfish interests by participating in this process.
If the testator was vulnerable to undue influence, this could count against validity of the will. For example, an individual with a mental disability might be unable to make informed decisions when drafting a will. Therefore, taking advantage of their mental condition to influence their decision counts as undue influence.
If the testator and the beneficiary had an existing confidential relationship, this could be used to prove undue influence. In legal terms, a confidential relationship refers to the kind of relationship in which one party relies on the other due to a history of trust, older age, family connection, superior knowledge or training, etc. The reliance gets to the point where the party being relied upon influences the other party’s decisions.
Are There Other Grounds for Will Contests?
You may be able to successfully contest a will for many reasons. That said, it is also important to note that the court may not accept some reasons if they do not hold any legal grounds. It is therefore important to consult an experienced Arizona estate litigation attorney for further guidance before contesting a will or other document.
Below are a few additional examples of legal reasons to contest a will or other estate planning document in Arizona.
Lack of Mental Capacity
It is possible to contest a will if the testator was not mentally capable of drafting or adjusting the will. This is called “lack of testamentary capacity.” However, each state has its own requirements to prove mental incapacity.
For example, in Arizona, a person is presumed to have testamentary capacity. So, the burden is on the challenger to prove an individual’s mental incapacity. The contestant must demonstrate that:
- The person did not have a general idea of what they owned
- The person did not have the ability to know their family members – the “natural objects of their bounty”
- The person did not have the ability to understand the document
The lack of any one of those three elements means the person lacked testamentary capacity and the document would be deemed invalid by the court.
Faulty or Incomplete Will
A will might not be considered legal if it does not meet certain requirements in Arizona. All statutory requirements must be followed to create a valid will. Unless it is a holographic will or electronic will, in which case different rules apply, for a will to be considered valid in Arizona, all of the following elements must be true:
- The testator (person signing the will) must be at least 18 years old.
- The testator must be of sound mind.
- The testator’s decision when drafting the will must be free and voluntary – without undue influence.
- The will must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses, one of which may be the notary.
- Anyone who is generally competent to be a witness may be a witness to the signing of a will.
- However, As of October 2019, the witness cannot be anyone the testator has listed as a beneficiary or related to the beneficiaries through adoption, blood, or marriage.
- The will must be created in writing.
On the other hand, a holographic will is valid even without witnesses. A holographic will is valid in Arizona if it meets these simple requirements:
- The testator was at least 18 years old
- The testator was of sound mind
- The testator was not unduly influenced
- the material provisions of the will are in the handwriting of the testator
Arizona allows electronic wills, but special/additional rules apply.
How an Arizona Estate Litigation Attorney Can Help
If not drafted correctly, a will or other estate planning document can be the center of seemingly endless and complicated legal battles. Disputes can arise when you least expect them and involve people you for whom you have so much love and respect. Disagreements can be frustrating, expensive and delay distribution of the estate.
If you need assistance or just have questions involving an Arizona probate, trust or estate matter, Berk Law Group is here to help. Call today at 480-907-0078 or send us a message online to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced Arizona estate litigation lawyers.