How California fights undue influence on estate planning

On Behalf of | May 30, 2024 | Estate planning |

Property rights don’t instantly end when someone dies. Technically, individuals retain certain property rights even after their death, as they can leave behind documents describing what they believe should happen with their most valuable property.

The decision to draft a will gives someone an opportunity to name beneficiaries who can inherit specific resources from their estate. Most of the time, testators invest quite a bit of effort into establishing arrangements that are beneficial for them and other people.

However, sometimes there are questions about whether an estate plan may be invalid because of the undue influence of an outside party. California law specifically addresses the risk of someone using their relationship to influence the terms of an estate plan.

Certain people cannot receive an inheritance

Under California state probate law, there are certain scenarios in which the probate courts should operate under the assumption that documents are likely fraudulent. Those scenarios include situations in which specific people become beneficiaries of the estate.

If the attorney helping someone draft the documents is also a beneficiary, that raises questions about potential fraud. The same is true of scenarios where a caregiver receives a substantial inheritance. If the documents were already in place before someone served as a caregiver, then they may be able to inherit from the estate even after supporting the testator.

However, documents drafted while someone has a position that gives them authority over the testator could be at risk of fraud allegations. The law even extends to the family members of those who provide medical support for older adults or assist in drafting estate planning paperwork.

By imposing a presumption that certain parties might exert undue influence for personal gain, California state statutes help protect older adults from the manipulative and coercive actions of others. The law also helps protect someone’s true wishes for their legacy and the inheritance rights of their close family members.

Learning more about unique California probate rules can benefit those drafting estate planning documents and those concerned about the content of existing documents after someone dies. Cases involving undue influence may lead to litigation if family members or beneficiaries believe an outside party convinced the decedent to alter their documents in that outside party’s favor.