Courts may declare a will invalid if they find it was made under undue influence. This issue comes up in very difficult will contests involving accusations that someone manipulated the deceased person into making a will that did not represent their true wishes. This is the primary legal issue behind many cases that allege financial abuse of an elderly person.
If a relative or other interested party can convince the court that a manipulator exerted undue influence on the deceased, the court may declare the will invalid. At that point, the will no longer has legal effect. The assets in the deceased person’s estate will then likely be distributed according to the Texas law that controls distribution in the case a person died without leaving a will.
Assets not in the estate
But what about assets that are not in the estate? Many types of assets are not considered part of the estate upon a person’s death. For instance, life insurance policies usually designate a beneficiary, and so the funds from the policy go directly to that person after the death of the policyholder. Financial accounts often transfer on death, as do some real estate deeds. Many well-crafted estate plans emphasize these types of assets because they bypass the expensive probate process.
But if a person can manipulate someone into changing their will, surely they can manipulate them into changing their life insurance policy or bank account. Those assets are not controlled by the will. Can a will contest also change how these assets are distributed?
The short answer here is yes. The court may decide to change the distribution of non-probate assets if it finds undue influence.
These cases are very difficult, but sometimes they are necessary to stop an injustice. People should speak to an experienced probate litigation attorney if they suspect undue influence was behind a loved one’s will.