Impact of Undue Influence on DC Wills

Explore the legal implications of undue influence on wills in DC with Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law. Learn how it affects estate planning and your rights.

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What Is an Undue Influence?

When creating a will, the testator, the person writing a will, must ensure all the necessary requirements are met for the will to be considered valid. The testator has to be of a sound mind and capable of writing a will. The will has to be in writing, signed, and properly attested.

But what if all the necessary requirements are met, but you suspect the testator was influenced to write the will in favor of a specific individual? In that case, we are talking about undue influence.

last will and testament in Washington DC has to be found legally valid to be enforceable in probate court. If the will is challenged because undue influence is suspected, the court will have to examine all the evidence to determine whether the will was made and signed freely by a competent adult. The court can invalidate the will created under undue influence, which can lead to other consequences for the beneficiaries.

This article sheds light on the complexities of undue influence in relation to wills. But, if you need legal help, Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, can assist with resolving any issues regarding your will, no matter who challenges it.

Understanding Undue Influence

It can be hard to establish undue influence. However, specific actions or relationships may signal that a testator was under pressure when making a will.

Definition and Legal Context

Under DC law § 22–932, undue influence means emotional, physical, or mental coercion that overcomes the judgment or free will of a vulnerable adult or elderly person. That influence causes them to act in a manner that is inconsistent with their financial, mental, emotional, or physical well-being.

As a result, undue influence arises when an individual exercises excessive persuasion, thereby overcoming another’s free will and causing them to act or refrain from acting. In the context of wills, this might manifest as manipulation to favor a particular beneficiary, often at the unwarranted expense of others.

Signs of Undue Influence

How does one discern the presence of undue influence amid will preparation and execution? It starts with vigilance to certain warning signs, such as:

  • A testator’s significant dependency on another individual

  • Sudden alterations in estate distributions that defy previously expressed intentions or a prior will

  • Exclusion of customary beneficiaries in favor of new or unanticipated ones

  • Secrecy or exclusion of family members during the will’s drafting phase

These signs can raise a red flag. But courts may require that the following factors are established in order to prove that undue influence occurred:

  • There was a confidential relationship between the testator and the person alleged to have exerted undue influence.

  • There was an opportunity for the person to actively participate, influence the testator, and exert undue influence.

  • The person who exerted undue influence stands to gain something according to the will.

In undue influence cases, the burden of proof is on the person contesting the will.

Legal Consequences of Undue Influence in DC

When suspicions of undue influence arise, the recourse often lies in challenging the will’s validity.

Contesting a Will

Before initiating a challenge to a will, establishing legal standing is crucial. Those with a vested interest in contesting the will, such as beneficiaries named in the document or individuals who would inherit according to DC’s intestacy laws if the will is invalidated, possess legal standing.

In Washington, D.C., contesting a will involves filing a verified complaint within six months of the will’s admission to probate. Additionally, the complainant must provide notice to all relevant parties involved in the matter.

During the discovery process, parties gather evidence to support their claims. These cases can include witness testimony, financial documents, or medical records. In some cases, will contests can be resolved through mediation. However, be prepared to go to trial and present arguments to a judge.

The role of an attorney is critical. An attorney experienced with undue influence and probate litigation cases will know which legal strategies to pursue to navigate these emotionally charged circumstances.

Legal Remedies and Protections

If a will is effectively contested in the District of Columbia, it can be deemed invalid. In that case, the property will be distributed under state intestate succession laws, as if the decedent had died without a will.

But, if any estate planning documents were made before the invalid will, the deceased person’s assets may be passed according to those documents. Also, part of the will may be upheld, while others are proved invalid.

Estate Planning and Prevention

If you’re writing a will, you can’t prevent it from being contested. But, you can make it harder to do so.

Creating a Resilient Will

Here are some tips for drafting a will that withstands undue influence claims:

  • Avoid making the will by yourself – even the slightest mistake can leave your will vulnerable

  • Discuss your wishes with your family members

  • Add no-contest clause – it allows the will to be contested, but if the person challenging the will is unsuccessful, they may lose whatever was left to them

  • Consider a trust instead of a will

  • Consult with a knowledgeable attorney

Estate Administration Services

Kevin C. Martin, PLLC, can help ensure your will is valid and properly drafted. Moreover, our attorneys can also help with living wills, estate taxes, trust administration, and asset protection.

If family disputes arise following a loved one’s death, there’s a high chance these conflicts will be taken to court. Our DC estate administration attorney can help you fight through the conflicts or work with the family to avoid them altogether.

Need Help to Establish Undue Influence? Contact Us Today!

Undue influence cases can be hard to prove. If you suspect the testator was forced or influenced by somebody to write a will a certain way or leave assets to a certain individual, we may be able to help.

Our team at Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, can secure sufficient evidence to prove undue influence. Further, while nothing is 100% certain, we can help you strengthen your will against any invalidity claims. We go above and beyond for every client, no matter their estate planning needs.