Disputes about the contents of an estate or the terms of a last will among beneficiaries are relatively common. Still, most of these disputes primarily affect family and interpersonal relationships, rather than the legal administration of someone’s estate. However, there are certain kinds of misconduct that could lead to litigation and major changes to the plan for an estate or how the administration of it occurs.
If you are unhappy with the terms that your loved one set in their estate plan, challenging the last will may not be a viable option for you. If you think that your sibling who served as a caregiver and is now the sole beneficiary of the estate engaged in misconduct toward the deceased party, that could be grounds to challenge the last will.
Caregivers sometimes abuse the authority of their positions
You may have felt relief when your sibling agreed to take care of your parent in their final years of life. You may not have had the time or the skill necessary to provide compassionate medical support.
However, soon enough your sibling wouldn’t pass your phone call on to your parents or let you through the front door for a visit. They effectively cut you off from your parent and may have then tried to blame you for that isolation. Some caregivers disrupt relationships in the family in the hope of the testator making retaliatory changes to their estate plan.
Others are less subtle. They may threaten to withhold visitation, pain medication or even food if a testator doesn’t comply with their wishes. The last will is only valid if someone creates it of their own free will. The undue influence of a caregiver for their own benefit could be grounds to have the court throw out the last will.
What happens if you succeed in your undue influence contest?
If you can cotest the will based on the undue influence of a beneficiary who served as a caregiver, the courts will not use that version of the estate plan for the administration of the estate.
If there are still copies of a previous last will or other estate planning documents, the courts may revert to those earlier instructions to uphold the wishes of your deceased loved one. However, if access to earlier documents isn’t possible, then the courts may instead handle the estate as though your loved one died without a last will, distributing the assets from the estate among family members as required by state law.
Thinking about why the circumstances make you suspect undue influence can help you decide if probate litigation is necessary in your family’s situation.