Undue influence is a judicially created defense to transactions that have been imposed upon weak and vulnerable persons that allows the transactions to be set aside. A claim of undue influence is often made when someone is trying to invalidate a will, a trust, a deed or any other legal document which passes property from one person to another.
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Virtually any act of persuasion that over-comes the free will and judgment of another, including exhortations, importunings, insinuations, flattery, trickery, and deception, may amount to undue influence. Undue influence differs from duress, which consists of the intentional use of force, or threat of force, to coerce another into a grossly unfair transaction. Blackmail and extortion are classic examples of duress.
Three elements must be shown to establish undue influence. First, it must be demonstrated that influence existed and was exerted. Second, there must be evidence that the influence subverted or overpowered the mind of the person at the time he signed the document. Third, it must be shown that the person signing the contested document would not have executed that document but for the influence.
Such conditions as mental, psychological, or physical disability or dependency may be used to show susceptibility. Defendants who aggressively initiate a transaction, insulate a relationship from outside supervision, or discourage a weaker party from seeking independent advice may be attempting to exercise undue influence. Courts are wary, for example, of testators who make abrupt changes in their last will and testament after being diagnosed with a terminal illness or being declared incompetent, especially if the changes are made at the behest of a beneficiary who stands to benefit from the new or revised testamentary disposition.
When undue influence is found to have altered a transaction, however, courts will make every effort to return the parties to the same position they would have occupied had the overreaching not occurred.
For a free initial consultation with the experienced Houston will contest attorneys at Romano & Sumner, please call us at 281 242-0995 or contact our Houston area law office.