Proving Undue Influence In New Jersey

Proving Undue Influence In New Jersey

When administering the estate of someone who has passed, the priority should always be to honor their intentions and wishes. In most cases, this can be done by simply following the directions laid out in a decedent’s last Will and Testament. However, if a potential beneficiary or relative believes that the Will is invalid, matters can become complicated. One of the most common issues involving the validity of a will is undue influence. In the case discussed below, a man accused his sister of unduly influencing his deceased son into naming her as the primary beneficiary of his estate. Making the claim of undue influence is one thing; proving undue influence in New Jersey is another.

Background of the Case

Michael Laury Jr. was the son of teenage parents. He was raised by his father and his paternal grandparents. His mother was not involved in his life, however, his paternal aunt, Michelle, also lived in the home he grew up in. While Michael was growing up, his father spent many years in jail. His most recent stint took place from 2019 to 2020. During this time, Michael was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.

During his father’s absence, Michael grew very close with his aunt, Michelle, while he was sick. He had moved back in with his grandparents, but found support in Michelle. She visited him often, and even helped prepare his Will.

Unfortunately, on June 4th of 2020, Michael passed away. Michelle made arrangements for all funeral and memorial services for Michael.

Proving Undue Influence In New Jersey

Undue influence occurs when an individual is manipulated by someone with power over or a special relationship with them. This is more likely to happen when someone is in some way incapacitated or mentally compromised. Claims of undue influence usually take place when, during the probate of a will, someone finds the contents suspicious. However, most underestimate how difficult it can be to prove undue influence. Since the decedent of the Will has passed, they cannot advocate for themselves and their choices. Therefore, this claim depends largely on the testimony of others. In order to prove undue influence, it must be proven that there was

  1. A confidential relationship between the decedent and the person accused of influencing them.
  2. Suspicious circumstances, or
  3. The individual was incapacitated at the time they signed the Will.

The Case: In the Matter of the Estate of Laury

Before Michael passed away, he contacted Michelle to help prepare his Will. She, the father of her child, and the uncle of her child all acted as witnesses. A notary was also present for the signing of his Will.

They later found out that Michael made Michelle his primary beneficiary, something Michelle says she did not know during the signing of the Will. After the Will was probated in January of 2022, Michael’s father accused Michelle of unduly influencing his son.

However, the court found that there was no proof for this claim. Michelle and Michael did not have a confidential relationship, and there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the creation and signing of Michael’s Will. Further, it was determined that Michael was of sound mind when he signed his Will based on the testimony of six different witnesses.

Michael’s father appealed the trial court’s decision, but for the same reasons listed above, the appeal was denied. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

If you have any further questions about proving undue influence in New Jersey, please contact Ward, Shindle, & Hall.