Undue influence occurs when the actions of a person deprive the victim of free will, causing the victim to perform some act they would not have otherwise performed. Most commonly, undue influence claims are brought to invalidate a will or cancel a property conveyance.
When evaluating an undue influence claim, the court will first look at the relationship between the testator/grantor (the person making the will or conveying the property) and the beneficiary (recipient of property). The court will especially look to see if there is a confidential or fiduciary relationship between the parties, such as guardians, powers of attorney, doctors, attorneys, and accountants. When a confidential/fiduciary relationship exists, Courts consider the outside person to have great influence over the testator/grantor. Where a confidential relationship exists between the beneficiary and the testator/grantor, the court requires the confidant/fiduciary to show they did not abuse their special trust and power. If the relationship is abused to influence the testator/grantor, the will may be invalidated, or the property conveyance may be cancelled.
If there is no confidential or fiduciary relationship, undue influence can still be found. The Court will determine if there was any unlawful or fraudulent influence that controlled the will of the grantor/testator. The Court will look to see if the influence was purposeful and so dominant that it overcame the will of the grantor/testator so they are deprived of free will. Most commonly, the fraudulent influence is a result of fear or coercion.
Proving undue influence can be difficult. It is not unlawful to transfer, gift, or will property out of love and affection (even if the gift shows preference over a family member). The law tries to balance the right to gift one’s property to another with the danger of undue influence. This balance is why having an experienced trial lawyer is crucial.
Litigating an undue influence case is complex; Burnham Law can give you the upper hand. Since it is unlikely there will be a non-party eyewitness to the underlying transaction, you need an attorney who can effectively gather evidence from a wide range of sources. From there, your attorney must know how to organize and prioritize the evidence gathered. Lastly, you need an attorney who knows how to present the evidence to the judge or jury. This is where Burnham Law excels: we investigate, organize, and present. Our attorneys are seasoned trial lawyers who can give you the advantage in an undue influence case.