Q&A: Understanding Undue Influence

Q: An elderly man in our congregation passed away recently. Our church was surprised to learn from the local probate court that he had left most of his estate to the church. He was a widower, with no children. Some of our church board members are concerned that his collateral relatives will challenge the validity of the will on the ground of undue influence. What exactly is undue influence? Can this gift be nullified on this basis?

A: If the recipient of a gift "unduly influenced" the donor into making the gift, the donor (or a legal heir) may have the gift canceled. This rule applies both to direct gifts made during one's lifetime and to gifts contained in documents (such as wills) which take effect at the donor's death.

There are five points to note about undue influence:

First, it is more than persuasion or suggestion. It connotes total dominion and control over the mind of another. As one court noted, "undue influence is that influence which, by force, coercion or over-persuasion destroys the free agency" of another.

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Posted: March 1, 2011
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