What Constitutes Undue Pressure or Influence in Florida?

Undue influence or pressure is a legal cause of action that can be used to invalidate a will or trust in Florida. You can also challenge beneficiary designations for payable-on-death bank and securities accounts in Florida. 

If you can win an undue pressure lawsuit, a probate court may be forced to invalidate an entire inheritance plan. Alternatively, the court can only strike one or a few provisions that are found to have been subject to undue influence.

How Do You Prove Pressure/Influence in a Will?

Undue pressure claims hinge on the relationship between the deceased and the person accused of misusing their influence to better themselves in the will or trust. Generally, there are two main points to prove to succeed in an undue include claim:

  • The person accused of undue influence had a close, secret, and trusting relationship with the deceased.
  • The person used this position or relationship to overwhelm the willmaker’s free will and significantly benefit themselves in the will, trust, or beneficiary designation(s).

So, if you assert that your loved one’s new significant other had undue influence over them and they received little to nothing after your loved one’s death, your challenge will likely fail.  However, the recipient need not receive a certain amount or percentage of an estate for a claim of undue influence to succeed.

Disputing a trust or will because of undue influence typically requires you to use circumstantial evidence. Very rarely will there be direct evidence of undue pressure, such as the stereotypical smoking gun email or text message.

Instead, your undue influence claim will require looking at multiple factors, including:

  • The length of the beneficiary’s relationship with the deceased.
  • The timing of the creation or change of the will or other inheritance designation.
  • The relationship between the beneficiary and deceased.
  • The deceased’s mental capacity, health, and independence.

The goal of any undue influence claim is to prove that, as a Florida court put it, “that there is destruction of the free agency and willpower of the one making the will.”

Is Undue Pressure in a Will a Crime?

Under normal circumstances, Florida law does not require a crime to be committed to prove an undue influence claim. However, there are certain instances of undue pressure that would be crimes.

For example, if the beneficiary threatened to harm, kill, or revoke needed food, medication, or treatment from the deceased, they might have committed a crime. This is especially true if the beneficiary had an elevated duty towards the deceased, such as a caregiver or guardian.

Additionally, undue influence can be committed as criminal fraud. For example, imagine a person forming a relationship with them late in your loved one’s life. If that person then makes false promises to your loved one in exchange for being named a beneficiary, they may have committed fraud. 

This could include romantic promises but more likely occurs through financial fraud. If the new person promises to double your loved one’s money so they can pass it on to you and your family members but then simply pockets the inheritance, that could be a crime.

How Hard Is It To Win an Undue Pressure Case?

Because undue pressure claims often rely substantially on circumstantial evidence, they are generally tough to prove. 

But, in Florida, a lawsuit for undue influence may shift the burden of proof to the beneficiary. If you can show the following three elements, the beneficiary must actively rebut a presumption that they committed undue influence:

  • The person is a significant and substantial beneficiary of the will or trust
  • The person had a confidential relationship with the deceased.
  • The person was active in procuring the will, trust, or beneficiary designation itself or a substantial revision of an already created document. 

Other factors come into play once the burden shifts to the beneficiary. But the main question a Florida court will look for is the reasonableness of the will or trust itself. 

For example, contrast the following two scenarios. In the first, five days before someone dies, they update their trust to insert a beneficiary that had never before received any consideration or asset distribution. This person only met the decedent the previous month. Additionally, they leave this new beneficiary 90% of their assets.

In the second scenario, two months before the decedent passes, they update their will to give one of their four children an additional share of the estate. This child’s portion goes from 20% to 30% of the total assets.

While both cases may be instances of undue influence under Florida law, the first beneficiary will have a much more difficult time overcoming the presumption they exerted too much pressure to their own benefit. 

Even with this burden-shifting in play, winning an undue pressure claim is challenging. Before taking any action, consider discussing your case with an experienced undue pressure lawyer. They can review your situation to determine the likelihood of success and advise on the best course of action to attack the will or trust.

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About RMO Lawyers, LLP

RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit https://rmolawyers.com/.

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About the Author

Scott Rahn, Founding Partner

Scott Rahn resolves contests, disputes and litigation related to trusts, estates and conservatorships, creating a welcome peace of mind for clients. He represents heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and executors. He utilizes his experience to develop and implement strategies that swiftly and efficiently address the financial issues, fiduciary duties and emotional complexities underlying trust contests, estates conflicts and probate litigation.

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