Preventing Undue Influence in a Will

A last will and testament is a very important document detailing the final wishes of a deceased person and New York probate courts give great deference to the language contained in a deceased individual’s decrees. One of the limited ways interested parties to an estate can challenge the directives contained in a last will and testament is to claim the deceased was not of sound mind and body at the time the document was executed, due to the undue influence of an individual attempting to take advantage of the situation and enrich himself or herself.


New York’s Surrogate Courts have very limited instances in which someone can contest the deceased’s wishes to disperse his or her property to the beneficiaries of the estate and asserting undue influence is often one of the most difficult to prove. The petitioner must prove to the court the testator somehow could not escape the influence of someone with a close, personal relationship to the deceased.


Additionally, the individual petitioning the court to invalidate the will must be an interested party, meaning he or she must have a legal claim to the deceased’s estate as a relative, usually a spouse or child. Under New York inheritance laws, spouses and children are typically granted a certain share or proportion of the estate and are therefore given standing to interject as an interested party.


Often times, New York Surrogate Courts rule a will invalid because the petitioner was able to prove the testator was not mentally competent and was essentially forced to execute a will by being unable to understand the situation. As these are rare circumstances and even more difficult to prove, probate courts execute the testator’s last will and testament overwhelmingly more than invalidating the estate.


Generally, the executor to the estate must defend the execution of the will against the petitioner’s request to invalidate the document. Under the law, executors may be entitled to compensation for their time to contribute to the estate’s defense and legal fees may be paid out of the estate to cover the cost of litigation.


Furthermore, good estate planning can avoid many of these potential pitfalls to ensuring the testator’s last wishes are carried out by the court and the executor. Creating a last will and testament early on in life and conducting reviews and updates when proper situations arise can safeguard your desire to see your estate go to the right parties.

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