What is Undue Influence in the Context of a Will Contest?

One way that a party may challenge a will during a will contest is to assert that undue influence was exerted over the decedent by the party who benefits from the disputed will. This raises the question: What is undue influence, and what proof is needed to demonstrate its presence?

Appellate courts have explained that in order for influence over a decedent to rise to the level of being considered undue influence, it has to be demonstrated that this influence destroyed the free agency and will of the decedent. This could involve mental, moral, and/or physical coercion. The influence must rise to a level of the testator accepting the domination and influence of another instead of following the dictates of his or her own mind and will. Weakness of mind as well as the desire of the testator being distorted by the imposition of a stronger dominating influence typically need to be shown to establish the existence of undue influence. That a party gave care and assistance to the testator is not in itself enough to be considered evidence of undue influence to destroy that individual’s free will. It needs to be demonstrated that the influence destroyed the free agency and will of the testator and that the will reflected the desires of the party which exerted the influence.

Undue influence is typically demonstrated through witness testimony (and potentially through relevant documents) which evidence that another party exercised mental, moral, or physical exertion, or all three, over the decedent. Any drastic changes in the decedent’s estate documents which directly benefit this party may also be proof of undue influence having been exercised over the decedent. The presentation of this testimony can be complex, and it is important that it be carefully planned before presenting this evidence to the court.

For help with your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC at 708 482 7090 for our main office in LaGrange, Illinois or at 847 656 8958 for our Northbrook, Illinois office.