How do you prove undue influence in a Will?

Apr 21, 2024

The law provides that in the UK, an individual can leave their estate to whomever they want. However, if someone is unduly influenced by another person into making a Will that is favourable to that person, then the Will is not valid.

If you believe that someone has been persuaded to make a Will in a certain way, you may want to raise a challenge. We look at what constitutes undue influence and how to make a legal challenge.

What is undue influence?

Undue influence can be persuasion, pressure, manipulation or coercion. Older and vulnerable individuals may be at a greater risk of undue influence, particularly if they are isolated and the person exercising undue influence over them is the main presence in their lives.

Situations that could raise the alarm include:

  • Where someone has changed their Will suddenly and in an unexpected way
  • Where a new beneficiary is added, or a small legacy is increased substantially
  • Where someone relatively new in the deceased’s life becomes a major beneficiary
  • Someone in a position of trust and influence over the deceased has been included in their Will unexpectedly

However, you need to bear in mind that everyone has the right to leave their estate to their choice of beneficiary.

How do you prove undue influence in respect of a Will?

It is for the person making the allegations to prove that there has been undue influence. There is a high legal threshold. In the case of Edwards v Edwards [2007], the court stated that it is not enough that the facts are consistent with a hypothesis of undue influence, it must be the case that the facts are inconsistence with any other hypothesis.

Points the courts will look at include:

  • Whether the individual who has allegedly exerted undue influence was in a position to coerce or manipulate the person making the Will, known as the testator
  • Whether the individual exerted influence
  • Whether this influence was undue, driving the testator to make the Will in their favour
  • Whether the undue influence was exercised in respect of the Will
  • Whether the Will was executed in the way it was because of the undue influence

An example of undue influence

The 2013 case of Schrader v Schrader concerned the two sons of an elderly widow who died aged 98. She made a Will in 2006, leaving her house, which was her main asset, to her son Nick. The residue of her estate, which was negligible, was shared between both of her sons, Nick and Bill.

A previous Will, made in 1990, had left her house and residuary estate to be shared equally between her sons.

Bill alleged that Nick had exercised undue influence over their mother. Nick had arranged for a Will writer to visit Mrs Schrader at home. He subsequently made attempts to cover this up. Mrs Schrader was vulnerable and depended on Nick, who had a forceful personality and a history of violence.

The court found that all of the facts of the case meant that it was more likely than not that undue influence had been exercised. Nick was stated to be ‘a forceful man with a forceful presence’, and the court decided that the 2006 Will was invalid. This meant that the 1990 Will took effect and the residuary estate was divided equally between the two sons. Nick was ordered to pay Bill’s costs.

Is there a time limit for an undue influence claim?

While there is no set time limit for bringing an undue influence claim, you are strongly advised to seek legal advice straightaway if you suspect that you have a case. Securing evidence as soon as possible means that witness statements can be taken and documents secured while the issue is as fresh as possible in people’s memories.

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