Undue influence in Maryland wills cases is important. The question of undue influence occurs when an heir or otherwise a beneficiary of the estate will caveat or challenge the testator’s last will and testament. The burden of proof of proving undue influence remains on the challenger.
What is viewed to show undue influence in Maryland wills cases is whether or not there was a close relationship between the influencer and the individual and that the relationship resulted in a distribution or a change to a testamentary distribution that would have otherwise not occurred without the relationship. Furthermore, there could be factors that suggest that the change is the result of the influence of another individual. Undue influence can be confusing, so talk to a skilled Maryland wills lawyer if you have any questions.
Parties involved in Undue Influence
It depends on the case and the undue influence that has been alleged, but typically the parties would involve any heirs to the estate, if the testator had died without a last will and testament or if the testator had had a pattern of giving any previous beneficiaries to the estate.
For example, if a testator had written several wills and had included distribution to a niece, but suddenly in their last will, days before passing away, they changed their estate distribution and left all of their estate to a caretaker, then that niece or nephew may be involved to say that the change occurred because of undue influence of the caretaker rather than the independent and sound mind of the testator.
How Wills Lawyers Prove or Disprove Undue Influence
The evidence in Maryland undue influence cases fact specific. Anytime a will challenge is being presented, the burden is a difficult one. The burden of proving undue influence lies with the challenger.
Oftentimes, it can be difficult to find evidence that undue influence was an issue. It can often be difficult to prove that that was the reason that a will has been changed. Attorneys can generally work on either side of the case. They may work on behalf of the personal representative and the estate to show that the last will and testament is valid and that no undue influence is present or they may work on behalf of an heir or a beneficiary to assist with challenging a last will and testament.
Something to note that, the challenge alone may be inefficient for what a beneficiary or an heir wanted. For example, if an uncle had spent his whole life with his niece, and says he will leave her his assets, but never executed a last will and testament until days before his death and then at his death, or right before his death, he drafts a last will and testament that left all of his assets to another niece or nephew.
Even if the challenging niece successfully challenged the last will and testament saying that it was invalid, or should be held invalid because of undue influence, it was already prior an existing original last will and testament, and the laws of Maryland would then be left to determine how assets would be distributed.
While the uncle may have said during his lifetime that he wanted to leave all of his assets to the niece, in the event that the nieces and nephews are the heirs of the estate, then the niece may receive something at the death of the uncle because she was with all the other nieces and nephews.
One of those classic cases of undue influence in Maryland is when the individual chooses to leave all of their assets to a caretaker rather than other family members. Often, a caretaker has exposure to the testator, the testator comes to rely and depend on the caretaker. Not all instances of an individual leaving a caretaker their will are undue influence, but that is the classic red flag that undue influence could be present.
For example, the decedent has three children and has a pattern on leaving all of their assets to three children in prior wills but makes a change to everything to their caretaker instead, that might be a red flag that undue influence was present. It is not determinative, meaning the burden of proof would still be on the children who will caveat the last will and testament, but it could be a red flag that undue influence occurred.
Presence of Heirs
Often, the discussion of last will and testament and distribution can be uncomfortable. It may be that the testator does not want to have that uncomfortable complication with their heirs about the distribution of assets.
For this reason, when meeting with individuals, part of the meeting would be in the absence of anyone besides the testator and then often, when a testator signs, the attorney will ask all of the heirs to leave the room so that the testator is signing on their own influence.