Undue influence constitutes one of the grounds to set aside a will or some of its provisions under Illinois law. Claiming undue influence means alleging that the contents of a will were the result of undue influence by another person rather than of the testator’s own intentions.
Many cases where claimants allege undue influence arise when a will provides what seems like a disproportionate or unfair benefit to one beneficiary. However, proving undue influence can present several legal challenges.
How much influence is too much?
Generally, courts tend towards a definition of undue influence as a type of fraud that takes away the testator’s free will. It is not enough for the testator to have a preference that may seem unfair or irrational to others. Rather, the law demands proof that the beneficiary affirmatively worked to override the testator’s will.
Courts typically recognize undue influence in cases of outright coercion. Examples may include threats, withholding necessities or imposed isolation from others. Claimants may encounter more difficulty in proving subtler types of psychological manipulation, as it can be hard for courts to draw the line between legitimate expressions of affections and manipulative “love-bombing” or similar techniques.
Special vulnerabilities of the testator
In addition, a claimant may need to show that the testator had some degree of physical and/or psychological dependence on the beneficiary that would render him or her more vulnerable to influence. Mental capacity can increase vulnerability and dependence. A confidential relationship can give rise to a presumption of undue influence, as it gives the beneficiary a large amount of power over the testator. The definition of a confidential relationship can include professional fiduciary relationships such as attorney-client, or a personal relationship where the beneficiary is a close relative, a caretaker or a romantic partner. All of these relationships offer the potential for misuse by the person who is in control. Once a legal presumption is in place, the beneficiary must now prove the absence of undue influence.
Undue influence allegations may involve complex legal questions as well as nuanced interpretation of relevant facts. A qualified attorney can offer you more information about this issue and other probate concerns.