Sometimes a decedent’s last will and testament can be contested among his/her heirs. In such instances, one party may try to argue that a testator was influenced in one way or another to write the will in favor of a specific individual. A DC wills lawyer with years of experience helping clients create their last will and testament will know proper procedure. Working with a lawyer who understands the complications that may arise during the will creation process will be better insurance against issues that may complicate the will’s contents during estate administration.
Factors That Hurt a Wills Chance of Being Recognized
The first aspects are on the face of the last will and testament, including issues such as whether the will has been executed properly and has the required attestation clause and witnesses. Generally, if those conditions are met, a will is accepted into probate to open an administration proceeding. However, it is up to the potential heirs or beneficiaries to challenge the will.
One of the reasons someone may challenge a will is to say that the testator had undue influence. This means the testator was required or somebody was forcing or putting pressure on the testator to write a will a certain way to leave assets in a certain method. For example, if the testator has three children and there is a past history of wills showing all of his or her assets were split three ways equally between the three children, and the testator redrafts his or will, re-signs it, and leaves all of his or her assets to one child. There may be a question as to whether one child had any undue influence over the testator to get them to change their will to benefit that child.
Other factors may be considered, for example, did the relationship between the testator and his or her other children deteriorate? Did the testator make lifetime gifts to the other children? One of the ways DC wills attorneys may assist with preparing for such an issues in the planning process is when the client is ready to sign their documents, the attorney asks everyone but the client to step out of the room. This provides the attorney with an opportunity to try be sure the client is truly expressing his or her wishes and they are not being influenced by other children or members of the family that were previously in the room.
How Undue Influence is Shown
There are a number of ways to show undue influence. One factor is the nature of the relationship between the person who is benefitting from the will change and the testator. For example, if someone can show continuous interaction, or if they can show any instances where the grantor express that they were being pressured into signing a will or pressured into changing their distribution. The relationship is continuous. There was opportunity for the person to influence the testator and then that person acted on that pressure to change their will. It’s not easy to show undue influence, but there are a lot of different tests and evidence that a DC wills attorney may use to show undue influence.
Examples of Undue Influence
One of the most classic examples is when somebody changes their will to write out their family and instead, writes in a caretaker. It’s not necessarily indicative of undue influence, but it can raise a red flag for planners because that would not be the ordinary way a person would typically leave their property, if he or she had children and grandchildren.
Another example is when a person has multiple children and has historically left their property in prior wills equally to all their children, and suddenly, in their last will, names just one child. That can be a red flag for undue influence as well. Another red flag is when a wills attorney in DC meets with a client and the client expresses something different to the attorney in private when everybody is out of the room than they do when everyone steps back into the room. That can be another example of when the undue influence question may be raised.
Ways a DC Wills Attorney Can Avoid Undue Influence
One way a DC wills attorney can avoid the suspicion of undue influence is to ask everyone to leave the meeting at a certain point so the attorney can discuss the testator’s wishes with the testator without anyone else present in the room. Also, when the testator signs the will, the attorney asks everyone except the witnesses or notaries, testator, and the attorney to step out of the room to be certain that at the time the will is signed, it reflects the grantor’s actual wishes with no outside pressure.