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What constitutes undue influence in New Jersey?

On Behalf of | Jul 15, 2021 | Estate Planning |

Concerned individuals can contest a will when they suspect the deceased person was under someone else’s unwanted influence. The person challenging the estate must prove undue influence by the defendant. 

Review the factors that influence cases involving allegations of undue influence in New Jersey. 

Definition of undue influence

The plaintiff in an undue influence case must show that the defendant exercised a substantial level of undue influence over the deceased person’s decisions. They must also illustrate that this influence robbed the deceased person of free will when he or she made or changed the estate documents, directly leading to these changes.  

Presumption of undue influence

The court presumes undue influence only in the presence of suspicious circumstances surrounding a confidential relationship between the deceased person and a benefactor. The confidential relationship in question could be that of a caretaker, family member, or anyone else the deceased person relied on for regular needs and companionship. Suspicious circumstances could include tension within the family, uneven bequests to children with no explanation, isolation of the deceased person during the last months of life, use of a new legal team or dramatic change in the person’s estate plan documents. 

When a person dies in Morris County, his or her executor submits the will to the court along with a petition to begin probate. At this point, family members who suspect undue influence can challenge the will. The Surrogate Court will investigate the challenge during the probate process and determine how best to proceed with settling the person’s estate and distributing his or her assets.