Wills are an important part of estate planning. However, when there is suspicion of coercion or some other type of influence, a deceased person’s will can be challenged with a claim of undue influence. The burden of proof for this type of claim is high. According to The National Law Review, the law limits the time to file undue influence claims in Colorado to three years.
The Free Dictionary by Farlex classifies undue influence as any nonviolent act, such as deception, persuasion, trickery, misguidance and flattery that results in the testator’s (the person who made the will) free will being overridden. Suspicion alone is not sufficient enough to establish the deceased was not expressing his or her own wishes in the will - there must be proof.
Common signs that may indicate undue influence include:
- The seclusion of the testator from relatives, legal professionals and the outside world.
- Secrecy regarding the will and estate plans.
- Sudden changes to the will, especially at the bequest of another family member.
An undue influence claim is only valid if it meets the following criteria: The plaintiff must prove that the respondent (person who exerted the influence) sought to benefit from the will. There must be evidence of a transaction or distribution action in the will that is suspicious or unnatural. An opportunity to manipulate the deceased person must have been present. Also, the testator must have been suffering from a physical, mental or psychological ailment that made them susceptible to the influence of the respondent.
Undue influence claims are challenging to prove because the manipulation often takes place in private. However, once an undue influence claim has been proven, the courts will remove the respondent’s right to inherit.