What is undue influence?
Undue influence pertains to any kind of persuasion forcibly imposed upon a vulnerable party, a persuasion that results in transactions being set aside or not enacted. Undo influence differs from duress which involves the intent to use force, or the intentional use of force. In order to establish that undue influence has occurred, there are four conditions which must be met.
- It must clearly be established that the victim was affected by overreaching. Such susceptibility can be demonstrated by such conditions as psychological or physical disability or dependency.
- There must be occasion and opportunity for the exercise of overreaching, as in such relationships of Guardian/Ward, Husband/Wife, Fiance/Fiancee, Parent/Child, and Trustee/Beneficiary (confidential relationships).
- It must be established that one party intended to exercise undue influence. For instance, a beneficiary of a will could be discouraged from seeking outside advice, or someone in the confidential relationships such as those mentioned in No. 2 could be discouraged from talking to any outside source such as a pastor, psychiatrist, counselor, or lawyer.
- The record must reveal in the other party some suspicious activity such as abrupt changes in last will and testaments, especially if a person has been declared incompetent or diagnosed with a terminal illness or if another beneficiary stands to profit from such a change.
Courts closely examine cases of suspected undue influence because it can be used against the innocent by avaricious parties. If possible, the court returns a verdict that re-establishes the original conditions of a will or the individual's original position before the overreaching occurred.