Undue Influence versus Lack of Capacity

815507_sThere are many legal terms used in the world of estate planning and probate, so it can get quite confusing. Two common reasons the validity of an estate plan may be challenged is that the decedent was the victim of undue influence or lacked the capacity to properly sign the will or trust document. It is important to understand the differences between these two terms.

Undue influence is alleged if the decedent suffered a weakened state of mind and another party took advantage of it. It commonly occurs when a caregiver influences the elderly person into signing a will or trust leaving a significant amount of the estate to the caregiver as “payment” for his or her services. It also occurs when someone is in a special position of trust in relation to the elderly. This can include a caregiver or someone who helps the elderly person do their banking and pays their bills. Undue influence can occur in a variety of forms ranging from threats to simply making the elderly person feel guilty. The key to proving undue influence occurred is establishing the weakened state of mind of the decedent at the time the estate planning documents were signed. If this can be proven, the burden of proof may shift to the other party.

Lack of capacity occurs if the decedent did not understand the document or the consequences of it when it was signed. In order to have sufficient capacity, the signor should know the extent of their estate, the nature of their relationship to the beneficiaries and they must understand that he or she is executing estate planning documents. Medical evidence is often necessary to prove lack of capacity. Any other evidence establishing the signor’s true intent can be extremely beneficial.

If you have questions regarding estate planning, we are here to help. We will walk with you every step of the way and ensure that you are never left wondering what should be done next. Contact us today for the answers you need.

The Astill Law Office has provided high quality legal services for over 30 years. We specialize in wills, trusts, estate planning, and asset protection. If you have any questions about creating a Trust, Will, or estate planning in general, contact The Astill Law Office at 801-438-8698.