Undue influence is a common tactic used to manipulate a Trust or Will for a wrongdoer’s benefit. Commonly a wrongdoer will take advantage of a parent or family member susceptible to manipulation or dependent on them to financially capitalize by estate document manipulation. Family and friends who witness this behavior often feel helpless, as it can be tricky to navigate, especially if the Settlor believes they are acting on their own accord. Trust litigation specifically deals with the aftermath of undue influence, however, there are legal remedies you can seek to try and mitigate the situation while the undue influence is occurring.
It is not easy to prevent undue influence, especially if the Settlor is still cognizant and in “control” of their financial decisions and assets. This is primarily due to a lack of standing and ripeness in the lawsuit. In order for a court to intervene, the suing party must have the standing to sue, and the claim must be ripe. Essentially, there is a standing to sue when a person seeking a lawsuit displays actual harm done to them from the controversy they are challenging. This tends to be the biggest obstacle when trying to prevent undue influence as it is occurring; a party cannot sue over assets that do not legally belong to them. This is because the Court’s ruling will not affect the petitioner if they have no legal standing. Beneficiaries in a Trust or Will have no legal claim over the assets in the estate document until the Settlor dies, and the document becomes irrevocable. Assets that are intended to be yours in the future are not yours in the eyes of the law. While the Settlor is alive, they observe the right to be able to alter, amend, revoke, and rearrange any aspect of their Will or Trust. For this reason, a beneficiary’s right to an asset is not guaranteed until the document becomes fully irrevocable.
The ripeness of a lawsuit refers to the maturity of the facts that give rise to the claim. The facts must pertain to a current legal issue or controversy. Essentially this means that you cannot sue for events or wrongdoings that have not happened yet. Typically in situations where there are suspicions of undue influence, there are inclinations that possible wrongdoing may occur, but the actual wrongdoing has yet to happen. A claim is not ripe if it depends on future events, and Courts will only render rulings on present issues that mandate court intervention. The potential loss of future inheritance is not ripe in the eyes of the Courts, as the beneficiaries do not have a legal claim of the assets, and the Settlor observes the right to make any changes to their estate while they are living.
The legal options to prevent undue influence while the Settlor is alive are limited for such reasons. However, friends and family can petition for a conservatorship if they believe the Settlor is cognitively impaired and being negatively influenced. Friends and family must prove that the Settlor lacks the capacity to sufficiently and responsibly handle their estate and assets However, the Settlor and other heirs can object to the conservatorship, which would result in a lawsuit.
A beneficiary that has been disinherited as a result of undue influence has more legal options once the Settlor passes away. The Trust and Will that have been jeopardized can be challenged, and the wrongdoings that occurred can be rectified once the disinherited beneficiary has a standing to sue and a ripe claim.
If you are in a similar predicament or want to know your legal options for your inheritance, please contact The Inheritance Recovery Attorneys. Our firm offers free consultations and specializes in Trust and Will litigation. We are here to help you protect your inheritance and ensure your loved one’s wishes are fulfilled honestly.