"Undue influence," is a legal term that many Texas residents might not be familiar with. It can come up in contract situations, but for the most part our readers will likely hear this term in regards to estate planning. Trustees, executors and fiduciaries, along with heirs and beneficiaries, need to be familiar with the term.
To understand what undue influence means in the context of estate administration, first one must remember that, to be considered valid, wills and other estate planning documents must represent the express wishes of the deceased person. If the person was not mentally fit to make his or her wishes known or to execute the documents, then the documents are not valid. Likewise, if someone was pressured or deceived into making the documents, the documents are not valid. This kind of persuasion is considered undue influence on the person who signed the documents.
A typical case of an allegation of undue influence might involve a friend or romantic partner of the deceased and the deceased's adult children. Upon the parent's death, the children learn that the will was changed to give a large chunk of the estate to the romantic partner. The children then allege that the romantic partner exerted undue influence in an underhanded plot to secure an inheritance.
Allegations of undue influence can lead to probate litigation, which can take a long time. Estate litigation always has the potential to get caught up on complex issues, and allegations of undue influence may see family members pitted against each other in a drawn-out dispute. This means that the assets cannot be distributed as quickly as they might have been otherwise.
Texas residents who believe they might have an issue with undue influence in the administration of an estate will likely need to get more information about their legal options. Contesting the validity of a will is usually not a simple matter. And the decision to contest a will can tear away at the trust between family members - it is a delicate decision to make.