The UK’s Trusted Probate Specialists
How to Prove Undue Influence In A will
To dispute a will you must have a legal basis. Typical examples include issues relating
- the capacity of the deceased,
- the validity of the will itself, or
- claims under the Inheritance Act 1975, when a will fails to leave adequate provision.
However the most common area of concern to many relatives left out of a will, are wills which have arisen under undue influence. So what does it mean and how can you prove it ?
Undue influence typically falls into one of two categories. Actual Undue influence such as threats to the person making the will, duress, coercion or misrepresentating facts to the person when the will is made, or alternatively presumed undue influence arises when there are circumstances that clearly warrant an explanation eg. substantial gifts, a house being sold at undervlaue etc
The Burden of Proving Undue Influence
The Burden of proving undue influence always rests with the person alleging that undue influence. For this reason, collecting evidence is crucial. Once a prima facie is established, the burden then shifts back on the person to whoM undue influence has been alleged to discharge that burden and provide an explanation for the issues that has arisen. In the case of a will whilst there are lots of legal definitions, the estbablished law states that the person making the will must have been :-
`coerced into making the will against their will, and that the will was therefore made as a result of the influence of the third party who dominated the testators mind. `
So How can you prove undue influence : Examples of cases we have handled
We always start with the will itself, and immediately obtain the will file to see whether there is anything unusual, for example :-
- who instructed the solicitor ? – was it someone other than the testator
- did the will fit into a typical will making pattern of the deceased or was it very unsual eg. left to a non-family member eg. a cleaner or someone hardly known to the testator ?
- did someone play a part in the will ? eg are there notes or letters written by anyone other than the testator ?
Often we see frail old relatives changing wills at the last minute, with someone actively involved in the will making eg. the third party will be calling the solicitor, making appointments, advising the solicitor of the testators wealth and wishes by sending letters or e-mails allegedly on behalf of the testator.
Once the will file has been obtained what arose before the will was made ? for example is there any evidence of financial abuse ? was the testator totally dependant upon the main beneficiary?
We have been successful in acting for clients on the following cases :-
- a claim against a will left by a 98 old Father who left everything to a cleaner only known for only 8 months excluding his daughter & son
- a claim against a will left to a neighbour who was given substantial lifetime gifts – we succeeded in securing a 6 figure settlement on the basis that lifetime gifts were made under undue influence
- a claim made against a will in which a property was sold at a substantial undervalue to a non-family member thereby significantly reducing the value of the estate
- a claim against a DIY will in which the testator left his entire estate to a carer whom he had only known for 3 months. Evidence within the medical records, neighbours and e-mails proved that undue influence had arisen. The case settled at a mediation.
What to do next ?
If you are unhappy with a will, you need to act quickly. Estate monies can be spent particularly in cases involving undue influence. The main beneficiary will no doubt be alive to the will being contested and therefore preserving estate assets is crucial. The issue of caveat can provide the time for investigations to be undertaken.
If you need advice on contesting a will on grounds of undue influence we can help, speak with Tim Murden, a solicitor who specialises in this area of law on 01482 429985 or via e-mail at email@example.com