In order to execute a legal document, which include estate documents such as wills and trusts, the individual executing the document (testator in case of a will; settlor in case of a trust) must have legal capacity. In other words, they must be creating the document through their own volition and free from any sort of external or internal influences.
It is, unfortunately, not unheard of that in the case of estate documents one intended beneficiary or someone else who is affected by the document subtly coerces the testator or settlor in to changing the disposition of any property. As such, there is a long line of cases (and statutes) across the country and in Missouri which deal with undue influence — what it is, when it occurs, and what are the consequences.
Undue influence is influence which, by force, coercion or over-persuasion destroys the free agency of the settlor or testator. However, the evidence must show that the undue influence was operative at the time the documents were executed. Missouri case law has articulated three (3) elements which usually must be present in order to find that undue influence has occurred: (1) a fiduciary or confidential relationship between the influencer and testator or settlor; (2) a substantial benefit to the influencer; and (3) facts from which undue influence may be inferred.
From what facts may undue influence may be inferred? The mental and physical condition of the settlor or testator; the opportunity of the influencer to influence; any unnatural dispositions of property or sudden changes in disposition from a prior document; active involvement of the influencer in securing the attorney to prepare the new document; hostile feelings toward the expected recipient; and the influencer discouraging anyone else visiting with the settlor or testator.
While no particular one of the foregoing facts is required to make a showing of undue influence, Courts have made rulings based on them.
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