The standard for undue influence in Arizona law is often misunderstood. Not all influence is “undue.” Before getting to that, here are some basics.
A will (or other transfer of property, such as a trust, deed or gift) may be canceled or set-aside in Arizona for various reasons. For example, a will or trust may be invalid because of extreme influence, or where the will does not meet the Arizona requirements to be valid. A will may not meet Arizona requirements if the person signing the will, the testator, lacked testamentary capacity (was of unsound mind) or if someone else exploited or took advantage of a vulnerable testator.
Under A.R.S. § 14-2712(B), “it is a rebuttable presumption that a person who executes a governing instrument is presumed to have capacity to execute the governing instrument and to have done so free from excessive influence and duress.” That basically means that, subject to the presumption of undue influence that may be triggered as explained below, a will or trust is presumed to be valid and have been executed with capacity and without illegal influence.
Basically, improper influence occurs when an individual exercises such control over the testator that the will or other document does not reflect the testator’s true intentions and desires. Instead, the will, trust or other document reflects the intentions and desires of someone else.
Factors for Determining Whether Influence is “Undue”
In determining whether excessive influence was used, the courts look at all of the circumstances. Generally the court will focus on whether:
- the influencer lied to the testator;
- the will was prepared and signed quickly, without deliberation or consideration;
- the execution of the will was hidden from others, such as family members;
- the person benefited by the will participated in having it drafted and signed;
- the will was inconsistent with prior plans;
- the will was unreasonable in view of the testator’s circumstances, attitudes and family;
- the testator was vulnerable (i.e. had a medical or mental problem); and
- the testator and the beneficiary had a close relationship.
Of course, not all influence is inappropriate. To be undue, the influence must rise to the level of where the influencer causes the person to disregard his/her own desires and, instead, follow the directions of the influencer. If a will, trust or other document was adopted because of undue influence, it can generally be cancelled. Or the gift to the influencer can be set-aside.
If you have any questions about whether a will, trust, deed or other document is invalid because of inappropriate influence or for other reasons, please give us a call at 480.607.7900 or contact our office.
Presumption of Undue Influence
Anyone who helps a loved one prepare a will, trust or other transfer of property should be careful. Arizona law may require proof with clear evidence that they did not unduly influence the family member.
The burden of proof in litigation sometimes determines who wins the case. If the party who has the burden cannot satisfy the burden – cannot present sufficient evidence to satisfy the legal standard – the other party does not have to present any evidence to win the case.
In Arizona, a party who is trying to uphold a will, trust or other transfer may have the burden of proving that there was no excessive influence if the presumption of arises. The presumption applies if three elements exist:
- The person had a confidential relationship with the creator of the will – was the professional advisor or family member, for example;
- The person was active in procuring its creation and execution; and
- The person is a principal beneficiary of the will.
All of these elements must exist in order to require the party trying to uphold the will or trust to prove the absence of undue influence. Where the presumption arises, the proponent (the person trying to enforce the will or trust) then has the burden of proving with clear evidence that there was no improper influence.
Alternatively, excessive influence is presumed if the person who prepared the document (i.e. the attorney) or the preparer’s family is the principal beneficiary of the will. But, this presumption does not apply if the preparer is related to the person adopting the will.
Contact Our Experienced Estate Attorneys
Our probate and estate attorneys have experience handling a wide variety of will contest, trust and other probate-related disputes. If you believe that an estate document or property transfer was the result of improper or excessive influence or you have questions regarding a probate dispute, contact the Scottsdale, Arizona estate lawyers at Berk Law Group, P.C.
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