Undue influence is one way to challenge a will in New York probate court. The other general grounds can be found here.
What is Undue Influence?
Undue influence occurs when the testator is unduly compelled or coerced to execute a will as a result of improper pressure exerted on him or her. This improper pressure is typically exerted by a relative, friend, trusted advisor, or health care worker.
New York case law has described the burden of proving undue influence as follows:
It must be shown that the influence exercised amounted to a moral coercion which restrained independent action and destroyed free agency…it must not be the promptings of affection; the desire of gratifying the wishes of another; the ties of attachment arising from consanguinity, or the memory of kind acts and friendly offices, but a coercion produced by importunity, or by a silent, resistless power which the strong will often exercises over the weak and infirm, and which could not be resisted, so that the motive was tantamount to force or fear.
What Are The Elements of Undue Influence in New York Probate?
The elements required to prove undue influence in a New York will challenge are “motive, opportunity, and the actual exercise of that undue influence.”
Under New York law, motive is required to support a case for undue influence. The classic example of motive is a financial benefit to the undue influencer. The undue influence benefits because of the challenged will. Motive can be determined by examining the size of the testator’s estate and what the undue influencer stands to inherit.
Opportunity to exercise undue influence must also be shown. Did the undue influencer have access to the testator? Was the testator susceptible to undue influence, perhaps because of a weakened mental state, old age, infirmities, isolation, or depression? Did the undue influencer have a confidential relationship with the testator, such that the testator reposed trust and confidence in the undue influencer?
Actual Exercise of Undue Influence
In order to successfully prove undue influence, it is not enough to demonstrate the existence of motive and opportunity. The actual exercise of undue influence must be shown. Common factors demonstrating the actual exercise of undue influence include the undue influencer’s involvement in the preparation and execution of the will, suggesting the changes to the will, and keeping the originals of the will after execution by the testator.
Undue influence is rarely proven by direct evidence. Instead, undue influence cases are largely circumstantial. The testimony of friends and family, the drafting attorney, medical records, and experts, all combine to prove an undue influence case.