As we have discussed before, "undue influence" is one of the most common allegations when people contest a will in Florida. Because of this, both the legislature and the state supreme court have weighed in on the issue at various times. Below is a very brief description of their various actions.
In 1971, the Florida Supreme Court decided a case known as In re Estate of Carpenter . In this case, the court listed several factors that can go into determining undue influence. These consist mostly of the beneficiary who is alleged to have exercised the undue influence being present at times when important actions were taken or decisions were made regarding the will and its contents, and being the one who procured any help in creating or safeguarding the will. The court points out that these factors are not meant to be exhaustive, and that probate courts may look at other evidence in making its decision. Later, in 2002, the legislature amended the probate statutes to shift the burden of proof in undue influence cases. Basically, the amended law says that the proponent of the will must show that it was properly executed and attested. Once that has been done, the burden shifts to those opposing the will to show why it should be considered invalid.
According to the Florida Bar Journal, state law also recognizes at least three factors in undue influence cases other than those set out in Carpenter. These are the isolation of the testator and disparaging of other family members, mental inequality of the testator and beneficiary, and reasonableness of will or trust provisions. This blog may explore these factors in more depth in upcoming pieces.
Probate litigation can be very complex and stressful, especially as it usually comes soon after the death of a loved one. If Florida residents have questions about the probate process or their rights as beneficiaries, they may wish to consider consulting an experienced estate planning attorney.