How Do Texas Courts Determine Whether a Will Was Made Under Undue Influence?

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In Texas, a will may not be considered valid if it was made under “undue influence.” This is because the undue influence may have changed the will-maker’s true wishes, plans, or intent so that they are unrecognizable – and certain beneficiaries or heirs may be harmed as a result.

Texas uses a three-element test to determine these a will was created under undue influence. The three core questions are:

  1. Did an influence exist, and was it exerted on the will’s creator (the “testator”)?
  2. Did the influence “subvert or overpower the mind of the testator” when the will was executed?
  3. Would the testator have executed the will if he or she had not been under this influence?

To prove that an undue influence occurred, it is not enough to prove merely that someone had influence or used it. The court must also find that the influence overpowered the testator’s ability to freely decide what the will should contain, so that the will contains the wishes of the person with influence, not the person to whom the will belongs.

How Can I Show That Someone Used Undue Influence?

The burden of proof for demonstrating undue influence is on the person who brings the claim to court. Since such a claim hinges on subtleties of thought, desire, and personal relationships, it can be difficult to prove.

Texas courts consider several factors when trying to determine whether an influence existed and was used on the testator. These factors include:

  • The circumstances surrounding the execution of the will;
  • The relationship between the person who made the will and the will’s beneficiaries;
  • The motive, character, and conduct of the beneficiaries listed in the will;
  • The words and actions of everyone who was present when the will was executed;
  • The testator’s physical and mental condition when the will was executed – including the testator’s age, weakness, infirmity, and whether or not he or she was dependent on or controlled by the person who is believed to have exercised undue influence; and
  • Whether the results in the will are unjust, unreasonable, or unnatural (for instance, if the will completely cuts off the testator’s children in favor of an unrelated person).