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What is undue influence in probate law?

Making a living will is a difficult decision, even more so when you take into account the people who may be affected by the distribution of your estate. While you wish to be fair to everyone you love, unless you leave estate distribution in the hands of the state of California it is entirely likely some bias will occur in choosing how to allocate funds, possessions and property. That bias is entirely of your choosing and your right, particularly if you allocate based on the needs of your loved ones - but what happens when, as you create your will, certain people attempt to influence your decisions in their favor?

This is what is known as undue influence, which has been a difficult topic facing California courts for years. A study conducted by California courts cites not only the difficulty of identifying and defining undue influence, but the difficulty of proving it. Undue influence happens when someone uses manipulative tactics, pressure or dishonesty to influence the terms of a legal and valid will, often in their favor or in the favor of their beneficiaries. Because this kind of influence often takes place behind closed doors or happens slowly over a period of time, it can be difficult to define an objective standard.

Even more difficult is proving undue influence in probate court after the passing of the decedent and during allocation of the estate. Without knowing the thoughts of the decedent, discussions of undue influence may resort to "he said, she said" arguments unless the accuser can provide definitive proof through documented and recorded communications.

This blog post is an informational reference and does not stand in for official legal counsel.

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