What is Undue Influence in Estate Planning in Ohio??

undue influence in estate planning

Undue influence in estate planning occurs when one person exerts pressure on another person to make decisions contrary to their best interests. The influencer usually takes advantage of a person to benefit themselves, often for financial gain. The pressure can take the form of deception, harassment, threats, or isolation to create a sense of dependency so that the person is influenced to leave their assets to the influencer in their Will.

Undue influence is a form of elder abuse in which a person changes their estate plans to give larger inheritances to the influencer. It is also one of the most common allegations presented in an Ohio Will contest.

Undue Influence in Ohio

Allegations of undue influence in estate planning arise when there are claims that a person’s free will and judgment were impacted by persuasion, isolation, manipulation, or flattery to convince them to change the terms of their Will.

In Ohio, undue influence is defined as “any improper or wrongful constraint, machination, or urgency of persuasion whereby the will of a person is overpowered and he is induced to do or forebear an act which he would not do or would do if left to act freely.'” Kasick v. Kobelak (8th District Court 2009), quoting Ross v. Barker, (Second District Court, 1995).

To prove undue influence in estate planning, the person claiming undue influence must prove:

  1. The Will-maker was susceptible to undue influence;
  2. The influencer had opportunity to exert undue influence;
  3. Improper influence was exerted or attempted; and
  4. The effect of the undue influence.

Was the Person Making the Will Susceptible to Undue Influence?

When considering whether the person making the Will was susceptible to undue influence, Ohio courts will consider the following factors about the person making the Will:

  • Age
  • Physical infirmities
  • Mental condition
  • Any decline in health
  • Fear of abandonment or being placed in a nursing home
  • Dependence on caregivers
  • Any other reasons that would make them yield to the will of another person

Did the Influencer Have an Opportunity to Exert Undue Influence?

Ohio courts will consider the following factors to decide whether the influencer had an opportunity to exert undue influence:

  • Did the influencer spend significant time with the Will-maker?
  • Was the Will-maker dependent on the influencer?
  • Was the influencer responsible for assisting the Will-maker with daily activities?

Was Undue Influence Exerted or Attempted?

Evidence of undue influence is often circumstantial. To determine whether undue influence was exerted or attempted, courts will consider whether the influencer:

  • Contacted the attorney who drafted the Will;
  • Made the appointment for the Will-maker to sign the Will;
  • Transported the Will-maker to the Will signing;
  • Provided the attorney with the names of the beneficiaries in the Will;
  • Kept the will after it was signed; or
  • Spoke negatively of family members to the Will-maker to promote disinheriting the family.

Did Undue Influence in Estate Planning Result?

Finally, the court will consider whether the influencer benefited from the Will. The court will evaluate whether the Will named someone unexpected as a significant beneficiary or significantly increased a beneficiary’s share of the estate.

Allegations of Undue Influence in an Ohio Will Contest

Allegations of undue influence arise in the context of a contested Will. Family members of the deceased file a lawsuit in Ohio probate court claiming that someone exerted undue influence to cause their loved one to change their Will to benefit the person accused of exerting undue influence.

In most cases, the burden of proof is with the person claiming undue influence. A Will is presumed to be valid unless the person contesting the Will can prove that the person who made the Will was subjected to undue influence. However, when the influencer had a fiduciary relationship with the person making the Will, the burden may be on the influencer to prove that there was no undue influence.

Presumptions of Undue Influence In Estate Planning

In certain situations, Ohio law presumes that there was undue influence. Undue influence is presumed if the beneficiary left assets to the attorney who drafted the Will and the attorney is not related by blood or marriage to the person making the Will.

Undue influence is also presumed if a non-relative caretaker benefits from the Will.

The role of attorney and caretaker are positions of trust, and Ohio courts may presume that undue influence occurred if someone in either of these positions benefited from the Will.

Contact RKPT for Probate Litigation

If you suspect a loved one was subjected to undue influence while making their Will, the Ohio probate lawyers at RKPT can help. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your situation.

Categories: Estate Planning