Undue influence is one of the main grounds upon which a caveator (a will contestant) contests a will under North Carolina law. Undue influence has been defined in North Carolina case law as:
“[S]omething operating upon the mind of the person whose act is called into judgment, of sufficient controlling effect to destroy free agency and to render the instrument, brought in question, not properly an expression of the wishes of the maker, but rather the expression of the will of another.” In re Will of Jones, 362 N.C. 569, 574 (2008) (citation omitted).
Undue influence under North Carolina law has also been described as:
“[T]he fraudulent influence over the mind and will of another to the extent that the professed action is not freely done but is in truth the act of the one who procures the result.” In re Will of Smith, 158 N.C. App. 722, 726 (2003); In re Will of Priddy, 171 N.C. App. 395, 399 (2005) (citation omitted).
What Are the Elements Of Undue Influence In North Carolina?
The elements of undue influence in North Carolina are:
- Decedent is subject to influence;
- Beneficiary has opportunity to exert influence;
- Beneficiary has a disposition to exert influence; and
- The resulting will indicates undue influence. Smith, 158 N.C. App. at 726 (citation omitted).
The Andrews Factors
Although there is no required set of factors that must be considered to make an undue influence determination, the North Carolina Supreme Court has identified a number of factors that may be considered in supporting a finding of undue influence, including:
- Old age and physical and mental weakness;
- That the person signing the paper is in the home of the beneficiary and subject to the beneficiary’s constant association and supervision;
- That others have little or no opportunity to see the signer;
- That the will is different from and revokes a prior will;
- That it is made in favor of one with whom there are no ties of blood;
- That it disinherits the natural objects of the signer’s bounty;
- That the beneficiary has procured its execution.
These factors are referred to as the Andrews factors, after the North Carolina Supreme Court case that identified them. In re Will of Andrews, 299 N.C. 52, 55 (1980).
North Carolina Undue Influence Cases Are Fact-Specific
Undue influence cases are very fact-specific. Therefore, a jury should “apply and weigh each factor in light of the differing factual setting of each case.” In re Will of Jones. In Jones, the North Carolina Supreme Court stated:
“It is impossible to set forth all the various combinations of facts and circumstances that are sufficient to make out a case of undue influence because the possibilities are as limitless as the imagination of the adroit and the cunning. The very nature of undue influence makes it impossible for the law to lay down tests to determine its existence with mathematical certainty.”
A caveator in North Carolina does not need to demonstrate every factor named in Andrews to prove undue influence. A North Carolina probate litigation attorney will be able to advise you on whether you have grounds to pursue a will contest on the grounds of undue influence.