My Sibling Took My Mom to a Lawyer to Change Her Will a Month Before She Died
April 11, 2023
There’s nothing easy about coping with the emotional strain of helping an aging and infirm parent. Of course you want to be there for them in any way you can and make their final days as pain-free and serene as can be. However, adult-age children can also be dealing with unexpected stress from their siblings and other family members regarding inheritance. Specifically, you may believe that your parent was taken advantage of in some way if your sibling helped initiate a will change before death. In these cases, you may have grounds for contesting the will if you feel your mother or father was the victim of undue influence.
These are notoriously hard cases to pursue, so if you believe you have grounds to contest, you should contact a local probate attorney right away. An attorney can discuss your options with you and help ensure you’re acting within the law. To learn more, reach out to The Law Offices of Steven H. Peck, Ltd. for legal help in Cook County & Lake County, Illinois as well as McHenry and DuPage Counties.
Undue influence is a very serious charge and is often categorized as a form of elder abuse. This happens when someone close to the will-maker (also called the testator) uses their influence in a deceitful or abusive manner to have them change their will. This is usually done in the last days of the testator’s life and is often done in secrecy, hoping that other family members don't find out about the change till after their loved one passes away. The difficult part about proving these charges is that the influence must rise to a certain level in order for it to be considered “undue.”
For example, it’s very common for family members to talk with their aging parents and give advice as to what should be in their will and even who they should name as beneficiaries. This is all completely legal. It’s even okay if one sibling has particularly strong opinions about the will and tries to insist that their brother or sister is ungrateful and shouldn’t be left anything. However, if that same sibling took their mom to change her will and actively estranged other family members away from the parent, this could rise to the level of undue influence. Furthermore, the sibling may also try to take advantage of the parent's deteriorating mental state and try to convince them to change their will in his favor.
Proving Undue Influence
There are a few different ways to prove undue influence after the death of your loved one, but since this can be a complicated process, you will want to hire an attorney to help. One way to show undue influence is by pointing out unexpected provisions in the will that appeared without explanation. This could happen if one child is suddenly removed as an equal beneficiary with no precipitating event or other circumstances to support the change.
Undue influence may also be present if the parent was dependent on or trusted the sibling who initiated the change. This is often referred to as having a “confidential relationship” with the testator. Of course, simply because one child is closer to the parent or serves as their caretaker is not enough on its own to prove undue influence, but it can be used as supporting evidence.
Another way you can prove undue influence in court is by showing that illness or frailty made that parent particularly susceptible to pressures from family members. This can often be the case if the parent suffers from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Lastly, if the last-minute changes to the will directly benefit the influencer, this is another crucial piece of evidence that can be used.
What Can Be Done?
All too often, these covert changes aren’t discovered until after your loved one passes away so there’s no opportunity to directly question the testator about them. Because of this, your best avenue for recourse is to contest the will in probate court. By contesting the will, you’ll try to convince a judge that the will should be invalidated on the grounds of undue influence. To do this, you’ll have to provide ample evidence which can include previous versions of the will, medical records, or witness testimony from those who were close to the testator and knew them and the family well.
Understand Your Options
It’s hard enough to lose a parent and have to go through the lengthy and often costly process of probate when administering their will. However, when you also suspect that a sibling exerted undue influence on your parent and convinced them to revise their will at the last minute, you’ll need the help of a probate attorney. If you’re in Cook County & Lake County, Illinois, call The Law Offices of Steven H. Peck, Ltd to learn more about your options.