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Challenging a Will for Undue Influence in Florida

Florida is home to a great many retirees, coming from all over the country. Because many of these seniors live at a great distance from their children, they often rely more on local services and amenities for assistance than they rely on their children. This is all well and good, until the parent passes and the children learn a healthcare worker has inherited the estate or the will favors one relative who has enjoyed special access. These scenarios raise the question of undue influence in the creation of the elder’s will.

Undue influence occurs when a party with access to an elder exercises enough control to induce the elder to create testamentary documents favorable to that party. Undue influence is grounds for invalidating a will or trust, but requires proof. Under Florida Statute §733.107, once a person introducing a will proves the document has been executed properly, the burden of proof falls on the challenger. However, if a challenger presents sufficient evidence of undue influence, the burden shifts to the presenter of the will to prove there was no undue influence.

If you are an heir making a case for undue influence, you must present evidence of two things:

  • Access — The alleged influencer must have had the opportunity. Was he or she in the presence of the elder regularly enough to establish a confidential relationship? Did this access provide the opportunity to manipulate that relationship? Was the alleged influencer physically present while testamentary documents were discussed or executed?
  • Control — The alleged influencer must have exercised sufficient control to override the elder’s decision making. In other words, evidence must show the unseen hand of the influencer in the events leading to the creation of the will or trust. Did the influencer hire the attorney? Take the elder to the attorney or make the appointment for the attorney to visit the elder? Bring in witnesses for the execution of the will? Take possession of the will after it was executed?

There is usually no smoking gun for a case of undue influence; the case is built on circumstantial evidence that is sufficient to cast doubt on the will’s validity. If you believe your relative’s will is the product of undue influence, a probate attorney at the Charles Law Offices can advise you on how to proceed with a court challenge.

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