Los Angeles probate litigation attorneys are familiar with allegations of undue influence that are often raised in court. Clients are often concerned about what to do when a loved one is suspected of being victim to undue influence. There may be clients who have been accused of exercising undue influence and need advice on how to defend themselves. Our Los Angeles probate litigation attorneys can help.
Difficulties with claims of undue influence
Los Angeles probate litigation attorneys know that claims of undue influence are often rather challenging to understand much less prove. Part of the reason is that the California probate code does not provide a specific definition of the term “undue influence.” Also, these proceedings often occur outside the presence of witnesses. Some probate courts employ investigators who can help. However, litigation of this type can still be difficult.
Defining undue influence in California
Although the probate code does not include an explicit definition, the California Civil Code does. However, the statute, enacted in 1872, is considered by some to be outdated. For this reason, many probate judges are left on their own when they consider whether to establish a conservatorship. Conservatorships may be necessary when it is suspected that a senior has been victimized by someone through undue influence. Consistency is also a huge issue in making determinations of undue influence.
Lack of mental capacity is not necessarily an issue
A common misconception is that a lack of mental capacity is intrinsically linked with undue influence. In other words, the only way that someone could be unduly influenced is if that person has a mental deficit. That is not always the case. California law provides that being of sound mind and body does not make someone immune from undue influence. But that provision does not mean a lack of mental capacity is a required element of such a claim. However, if an alleged victim does not have any mental deficits, that could make the claim of undue influence harder to prove.
How to prove undue influence under California law
The California statute that is most often involved in claims of undue influence is California Civil Code §1575. The elements that need to be proven under this statute are as follows:
- The use, by one in whom a confidence is reposed by another, or who holds real or apparent authority over him, of such confidence or authority for the purpose of obtaining an unfair advantage over him;
- In taking an unfair advantage of another’s weakness of mind; and
- In taking a grossly oppressive and unfair advantage of another’s necessities or distress.
Situations involving undue influence typically include some type of pressure exerted on someone else.
Other relevant factors to consider
The California courts have also identified a few other factors that can indicate excessive pressure, even in someone who is not elderly and who has no lack of mental capacity. Those factors include discussing or handling probate transactions at inappropriate or unusual times or in unusual places. This can be a sign that the perpetrator is trying to conceal those actions. Also, pressuring someone into completing a transaction by insisting that the transaction take place immediately and threatening unfavorable consequences if there is a delay. There are other factors that can be considered as well, so speak to one of our Los Angeles probate litigation attorneys if you have questions.
Other reasons for probate litigation
Undue influence is not the only reason probate litigation becomes necessary. There are basically four legal grounds for challenging the validity of a will: (1) it was not signed properly, (2) there is a question about testamentary capacity, (3) there is a suspicion of undue influence in executing the will, and (4) the testator was fraudulently induced into creating the will or including certain provisions. Each of these grounds can be difficult to prove. Contesting a will can also be a very expensive court process, yet that fact does not discourage everyone.
Creating a self-proven can help to avoid contested wills
One way to ensure that your family will not be caught up in a legal battle after your death, at least regarding the validity of your will is to create a “self-proving” Will. This type of Will, which is recognized in California, essentially takes the guesswork out of Will authenticity. You basically sign your Will in the presence of a notary, and your witnesses must do the same. Also, you and your witnesses will sign notarized affidavits that establish who you are and confirm that each of you knew you were signing a will. Those affidavits are kept as separate documents.
Download our FREE estate planning worksheet today! If you have questions regarding estate planning, trust contests, or any other trust administration issues, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us in Los Angeles at (310) 337-7696, and in Orange County at (562) 346-3209.
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