Losing a loved one is bad enough; however, losing a loved one and then deciding that you need to challenge the Will presented to the probate court can be overwhelming. However, if you seriously believe that another person unduly influenced the decedent, contesting the Will is the only way to determine if your suspicions are well-founded. You do need to know what you will have to prove to get a judge to agree with your concerns and invalidate the Will. Toward that end, an Oklahoma City probate attorney at Parman & Easterday explains what constitutes undue influence for the purpose of an Oklahoma Will contest.
Contesting a Will in Oklahoma
To understand how a Will contest works you must first understand how probate works. Probate is the legal term given to the process by which assets of a decedent are identified, expenses and taxes paid, disputes resolve, and assets eventually distributed. Before that can happen, however, the decedent’s Last Will and Testament must be formally authenticated. If the Will is authenticated, the terms of that document will then be used to determine how the decedent’s estate assets are distributed. Any “interested person” can challenge the validity of that Will. If that challenge is successful, the Will is invalidated and the state intestate succession laws are used to decide how the estate assets are distributed.
A Will cannot be challenged simply because an heir is unhappy with his/her inheritance (or lack of inheritance). Instead, to prevail in a Will contest, a contestant must allege, and eventually prove, legal grounds on which the Will can be declared invalid. State law determines what grounds are available. In the State of Oklahoma, grounds on which a Will could be declared invalid include:
- There is a subsequent valid Will
- Someone exercised undue influence over the Testator
- The Will is fraudulent or is a product of fraud
- The Will is ambiguous and can be interpreted in more than one way
- The Testator lacked the requisite testamentary capacity at the time the Will was executed
What Is Undue Influence?
Undue influence is often alleged as a grounds on which a Will should be declared invalid. It is often alleged to have occurred when the decedent was isolated by a caregiver for a period of time prior to death and loved ones question the relationship between the decedent and the caregiver. More specifically, they question the influence that caregiver had over the decedent during the execution of the Will in question. For example, imagine that during the last several years of your grandmother’s life her health deteriorated to the point where she required a home health worker on a daily basis. That health worker slowly appeared to cut your grandmother off from the family by screening telephone calls and discouraging in-person visits. Following your grandmother’s death, you learn that she revised her Will just two months prior to her death. Assume that in the new Will she gifted a sizable portion of her estate to the health worker despite prior assurances to family members that she planned to leave her entire estate to her grandchildren. You would likely believe that the home health worker exerted undue influence over your grandmother when she executed her most recent Will.
How Do I Convince the Court that the Decedent’s Will Is the Product of “Undue Influence?”
In the State of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Statutes §15-61 governs the issue of “undue influence” in a Will contest, stating as follows:
- In the use, by one in whom a confidence is reposed by another, or who holds a real or apparent authority over him, of such confidence or authority for the purpose of obtaining an unfair advantage over him.
- In taking an unfair advantage of another’s weakness of mind; or,
- In taking a grossly oppressive and unfair advantage of another’s necessities or distress.
Contact an Oklahoma City Probate Attorney
For additional information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about contesting a Will in Oklahoma using undue influence to invalidate the Will, contact an experienced Oklahoma City probate attorney at Parman & Easterday by calling 405-843-6100 or 913-385-9400 to schedule your appointment today.