Texas adults generally have the legal right to put together their own estate plans. They can leave instructions regarding the distribution of their property and the care of any dependent family members. Someone’s testamentary documents should reflect the legacy they wish to leave behind and the relationships they have cultivated throughout their life. Unfortunately, sometimes outside influences unfairly impact an estate plan.
Family members in Texas may review someone’s final will with shock because the instructions provided deviate from what a testator has always stated they wanted to do. Especially when one person benefits from those changes, people may question whether that person influenced the testator in question. Depending on a family’s circumstances, probate litigation may be an option in such scenarios.
Claims of undue influence must meet certain standards
People cannot successfully challenge an estate in probate court just because they feel dissatisfied with the terms someone set. They need reason to suspect there is an issue with the document or the circumstances of its creation. To claim in probate court that someone used their relationship to benefit from an estate, the party filing the lawsuit needs proof that the situation meets specific standards. A claim of undue influence is essentially an allegation that an outside party used their relationship to coerce, threaten or manipulate the testator.
Establishing that fact in probate court will require a bit of effort. First, plaintiffs will need to prove that the testator was somehow vulnerable. Medical issues that left them dependent on loved ones for care would be a perfect example of a scenario in which undue influence is a noteworthy risk. Then, plaintiffs would need to establish that the party exerting the influence benefited from their efforts. Producing a prior will with a very different distribution of assets could help meet this standard. Finally, any evidence that shows how a beneficiary manipulated or otherwise influenced the testator will help.
Those disappointed by estate planning documents often have emotional reactions and may have a hard time being their own best advocate. As a result, seeking legal guidance can make all the difference for those intending to pursue probate litigation in Texas.