One of the functions of the probate process which follows an individual’s death is to authenticate the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. If someone decides to challenge the decedent’s Will, they must allege grounds for that challenge, one of which is “undue influence” in the State of Arizona. A Phoenix probate attorney at Morris Hall PLLC explains what a contestant must prove to prevail on a claim of undue influence in an Arizona Will contest.
Contesting a Will in Arizona
Probate is the legal term given to the process by which assets of a decedent are identified and eventually distributed. Before that can happen, however, the decedent’s Will must be formally authenticated, if a Will was executed prior to death. If the Will is authenticated, the terms of that document will then be used to determine how the decedent’s estate assets are distributed. Any “interested person” can challenge the validity of that Will though. If that challenge is successful, the Will is invalidated and the state intestate succession laws are used to decide how the estate assets are distributed.
A Will cannot be challenged simply because an heir is unhappy with his/her inheritance (or lack of inheritance). Instead, a contestant must allege, and eventually prove, legal grounds on which the Will can be declared invalid to prevail in a Will contest. State law determines what grounds are available. In the State of Arizona, grounds on which a Will could be declared invalid include:
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- Undue influence
How Does a Contestant Prove “Undue Influence?”
Undue influence is often alleged as a grounds on which a Will should be declared invalid. It was often occurs (or allegation occur) when the decedent was isolated by a caregiver for a period of time prior to death and loved ones question the intentions and/or actions of that caregiver. For example, imagine that during the last several years of your grandmother’s life her health deteriorated to the point where she required a home health worker on a daily basis. That health worker slowly appeared to cut your grandmother off from the family by screening telephone calls and discouraging in-person visits. Following your grandmother’s death, you learn that revised her Will just two months prior to her death and in the new Will she gifted a sizeable portion of her estate to the worker despite prior assurances to family members that she planned to leave her entire estate to her grandchildren. You would likely believe that the home health worker exerted undue influence over your grandmother when she executed her most recent Will.
The term “undue influence” has been described by the courts as occurring “when a third party, through their power over the mind of the Testator, influences the Testator’s desires to conform to those of the third party exercising the undue influence and not to the desires of the Testator.” Like many legal concepts, a simple “test’ does not exist for determining if undue influence was exerted over the decedent. Nevertheless, the courts have provided eight factors to consider when deciding if a party exercised undue influence over a Testator, including:
- Whether the person being benefited has made any fraudulent representations to the deceased;
- Whether the will or trust was hastily executed;
- Whether such execution was concealed;
- Whether the person benefited was active in securing the drafting and execution of the will or trust;
- Whether the will or trust was consistent with prior declarations of the testator;
- Whether the provisions were reasonable rather than unnatural in view of the testator’s attitude, views, and family;
- Whether the testator was susceptible to undue influence; and
- Whether there existed a confidential relationship between the testator and the person allegedly exerting undue influence.
It is not necessary to determine that each of these factors exist; however, the more factors that can be found to apply, the more likely a court will be to conclude that undue influence existed at the time the Will was executed.
Contact a Phoenix Probate Attorney
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you are contemplating a Will contest, or you are the Executor of an estate who is faced with a potential Will contest, contact an experienced Phoenix probate attorney at Morris Hall PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your free consultation today.