What is undue influence?

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Undue influence refers to a situation where a person manipulates another, compromising their free will and decision-making, often in legal and contractual contexts, to gain an unfair advantage.

This typically occurs in relationships where there is a significant imbalance of power. The dominant individual exploits their advantage, compelling the other into potentially detrimental decisions.

Key aspects

  • Undue influence typically involves one party manipulating a vulnerable person to secure their desired outcomes.
  • Agreements found to have involved undue influence may be legally voided, depending on the influence level and any additional factors.
  • Undue influence can range significantly, from minor favours to significant financial transactions.

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Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor

Partner | Private wealth disputes

01483 464274

Undue influence in wills

Undue influence in the context of wills occurs when a person manipulates or exerts excessive pressure on the testator (the person making the will) to the point where their free will is compromised, resulting in a will that reflects the influencer’s desires rather than the true wishes of the testator.

Such influence can lead to legal disputes, with potential outcomes including the invalidation of the will if undue influence is proven in court.

If you believe that the testator has been a victim of undue influence and would like to contest the will, please contact Moore Barlow’s experienced team of contesting a will solicitors.

How to prove undue influence in a will

Proving undue influence in a will within the UK legal framework can be complex and typically hinges on the following aspects:

  • Demonstrating that the testator was coerced into making the will in a certain way, showing that their free will was overridden.
  • Establishing a relationship of trust and confidence between the testator and the alleged influencer, thus suggesting susceptibility to influence.
  • Confirming that the influencer receives a substantial benefit under the will, which is unexpected or unjustified.
  • Providing evidence regarding the testator’s mental and physical condition at the time of the will’s creation, which might indicate a vulnerability to influence.
  • Highlighting any secretive or suspicious circumstances around the making of the will.
  • Demonstrating that the influencer had the capacity and disposition to exert undue influence on the testator.
  • Showcasing substantial deviations from the testator’s previously expressed wishes without a plausible explanation.
  • Revealing whether the testator received independent legal advice or if the influencer played a notable role in organising the will.
  • Documenting rapid alterations to the will, especially if the testator’s health was deteriorating or other pressure was applied.

To successfully prove undue influence, it’s crucial to present a cohesive and compelling case, often supported by circumstantial evidence, to the court. Legal advice and assistance are usually fundamental in navigating through the complexity of such disputes.

What is an example of undue influence?

An example of undue influence might involve an elderly individual, who we will call Mrs. Smith. Mrs Smith is dependent on her caregiver, Mr. Jones, for her daily needs and emotional support. Over time, Mr. Jones uses his position of power to manipulate Mrs. Smith’s decisions and emotions, eventually coercing her into changing her will to leave all her assets to him, contrary to her original intention of dividing her estate among her children and grandchildren.

Mr. Jones achieves this by threats of abandonment, emotional manipulation, or by deceitfully presenting false information. This alteration of the will, driven by Mr. Jones’ coercive influence rather than Mrs. Smith’s genuine wishes, illustrates undue influence in action.

Not every case of undue influence will involve elderly individuals, or be as clear cut as this example. Undue influence is often subtle and may grow over a long period of time. If you suspect undue influence has played a role in the will of a loved one, seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible.

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Can a will be invalidated if undue influence is proven?

Yes, if undue influence is proven in a court of law, the will can be invalidated. In such a case, the will would be considered not to be a true reflection of the testator’s wishes since it was created under coercion or manipulation.

Consequently, the estate would then typically be distributed either according to a previous valid will or, in the absence of one, under the rules of intestacy. Legal advice should be sought in such situations due to the complexity and sensitivities involved.

Who can be accused of undue influence in a will?

In a will dispute, various individuals can be accused of exerting undue influence, typically those who had a relationship with the testator (the person who made the will). This might include family members, friends, caregivers, legal advisors, or anyone else in a position to manipulate the testator’s decisions, especially if they stand to gain from the alterations in the will.

Accusations must be backed with sufficient evidence to establish that the alleged influencer exerted pressure that compromised the testator’s free will.

What are the remedies for undue influence?

If you suspect undue influence in a will, you may challenge its validity through court proceedings. If successful, the court might invalidate the entire will or make specific provisions, potentially triggering intestacy rules or reverting to a previous will.

Engaging experienced solicitors such as Moore Barlow in contentious probate matters is advisable.

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Contesting a will under testamentary capacity

You might have grounds to contest a will if there is evidence that they lacked sound mental capacity or memory during its creation or amendment. An individual must possess testamentary capacity to create or modify a will.

If you hold concerns regarding the validity of a will, specifically relating to testamentary capacity, reaching out to the experienced team at Moore Barlow LLP can be your first step towards resolution.

Contesting a will on the grounds of the testator’s mental capability necessitates a considered legal approach. Our skilled contesting a will solicitors can guide you through each stage, offering expert advice and robust support.

We understand the sensitivity and complexity that often surrounds such matters and are here to provide a transparent, empathetic, and effective service, ensuring that your concerns are thoroughly explored and addressed. Begin your journey with us to navigate through the legal intricacies and protect your interests in a potentially invalid will.

How do you prove lack of testamentary capacity?

To prove lack of testamentary capacity in the UK, evidence must indicate that the testator did not understand the extent of their estate, the beneficiaries, the significance of the will, or was subject to delusions when creating it. Medical records, witness accounts, and expert testimony are often crucial.

What is a reasonable belief of lack of capacity?

The Mental Capacity Act stipulates that, prior to acting on someone’s behalf, you must possess a reasonable belief that your assessment of their capacity is accurate. Essentially, this implies that any other reasonable individual, under identical circumstances, would arrive at a comparable conclusion to your own.

Who has to prove capacity in a will?

When a will is contested, the onus to prove testamentary capacity generally lies with the person propounding the will, meaning the individual seeking to uphold its validity. They must establish that the testator possessed the requisite mental capacity to form a valid will at the time of execution.

Can you contest a will if the person has dementia?

Yes, you can contest a will if the testator had dementia, provided you can demonstrate that they lacked testamentary capacity — an understanding of their estate and the implications of the will — at the time of its creation. Legal and medical evidence will be crucial to support the claim.

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