Many residents of San Jose, California, and the surrounding greater Bay Area may have heard the phrase undue influence, even if they just happened to be reading about a big estate-related court fight.
Undue influence is one reason disgruntled heirs and beneficiaries may decide to challenge a will. For that matter, even though trusts are typically administered outside of the court-supervised probate process, a person can claim undue influence as part of trust litigation as well.
Undue influence is what is called a doctrine of equity, which, in plain English, means it is an idea developed by the courts over time in order to ensure fundamental fairness. That way, people can avoid the frustrating situation of others following the letter of the law while still taking advantage of others.
The idea behind undue influence is that creating wills and trusts should be a decision left to the free choice of the drafter of the document.
As such, even if the person has the mental abilities to make a valid will or trust, a court may set the document aside under certain circumstances.
Specifically, if another person was in a position of power over an already vulnerable adult and used his or her position to get the vulnerable adult to draft a will or trust in a way that favored the person, a court may find undue influence.
This is a very broad overview of what constitutes undue influence. Really, whether there was undue influence, or rather, just some pushiness or even inappropriate behavior, is a question that depends heavily on the circumstances. California courts have made specific rulings in this respect, which is why allegations of undue influence should be referred to an experienced probate attorney.