Memphis Undue Influence Attorneys

Lawyers in Tennessee for Contesting a Will or Durable Powers of Attorney

The time after the death of a loved one is almost always difficult, even if the death was preceded by a lengthy illness or years of health problems. When you are dealing with the grief and other emotions associated with loss, it can be especially troubling to learn that your loved one’s will was recently changed to benefit a particular beneficiary in a way that seems suspicious. If you have a reason to believe that the beneficiary—or anyone else—tricked or forced your loved one into amending his or her will or powers of attorney, you may have the grounds to contest the will based on undue influence, and the team at the offices of Douglass & Runger, Attorneys at Law, is ready and willing to help you. 

The Importance of Voluntary Testaments

Every person has the right to decide how his or her assets will be distributed on the person’s death. It is very important, however, for those decisions to be voluntary. A person who has been deceived or coerced into making certain choices about his or her property is not making them voluntarily. He or she is being manipulated. 

Over the years, courts in Tennessee courts have established a presumption of undue influence if there exists “a confidential relationship followed by a transaction wherein the dominant party receives a benefit from the other party.” This presumption can be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence that the transaction was fair.  

For the purposes of estate planning, it is unfortunately not uncommon for someone with close access to an aging or ill person to place undue influence on that person to include certain provisions in the person’s will or estate plan. Undue influence can come from family members, friends, and even unrelated caregivers. 

Something to Gain

Undue influence is often linked with beneficiaries or heirs attempting to manipulate a situation for their own benefit. To illustrate, picture a situation in which an aging widow has three children and a reasonably large estate. For many years, the two older children lived fairly close to their mother, visited regularly, and generally supported her as she got older. The youngest, by comparison, was more of a wanderer, living in many different states, and going for years at a time without contacting anyone in the family, including his mother. In her early 70s, the woman drafts a will that leaves an equal share of her estate to each of her children. 

As the woman approaches 80 years old, her health begins to decline, and she requires around-the-clock care in a nursing home. The older children continue to visit her and to look after her needs, but the youngest is nowhere to be found for several months. Suddenly, he shows up and begins spending every day at the nursing home with his mother. The older siblings attribute the presence of their brother to years of guilt and wanting to spend quality time with his mother before she dies. 

After a few weeks, the woman dies. Much to their surprise, the older siblings find that their mother had redrafted and executed her will just a few days before she died. In the new will, the youngest sibling is slated to receive about 75 percent of the woman’s estate, and the older children are to split the remainder. Such a situation would be ripe for legal action on the basis of undue influence. 

Similarly, you might imagine the same exact scenario, except after the woman’s death, the older children learn that their mother changed her power of attorney to nominate the youngest child as the attorney-in-fact, or decision maker, for her benefit. What is more, the older children discover their younger brother used the power of attorney to change beneficiary designations on the mother’s checking account, resulting in the money in the account passing directly to him upon her death. 

Having a Document or Transaction Set Aside

In order to have a estate planning document invalidated on the basis of undue influence, you will need to show that the person in question had a confidential relationship with the creator of the document. You will also need to provide convincing evidence that the final document was not compatible with the previously expressed wishes of the decedent and that there was no reasonable indication of the decedent changing his or her mind voluntarily. 

If you are seeking to have transactions effected by means of a power of attorney set aside due to undue influence, you must prove the same criteria existed as set forth above. Specifically, you’ll , the attorney-in-fact had a confidential relationship with the creator of the power of attorney and that the transaction solely benefited the attorney-in-fact and was not compatible with the previously expressed wishes of the decedent. These situations must be addressed as quickly as possible, as the bad actor could easily spend or attempt to conceal the money misappropriated from the decedent.

Contact a Shelby County Probate Lawyer

To learn more about our firm and how we can help your family manage a situation in which you suspect undue influence, contact the office of Douglass & Runger, Attorneys at Law. Call (901) 388-5805 for a confidential consultation today.