Often it is not discovered until after someone dies, that a person’s will has been made in a suspicious manner. One of the most suspicious ways that a will can be changed is when family is left out of the will to the benefit of a friend or neighbor. What many families would wonder in such a situation is: if this is enough to get the will overturned. The quick answer is that, taken alone, a will being changed to benefit a non-relative is not enough to overturn a will, but it can present some relatively strong evidence that something is amiss. However, if you believe that your relative was somehow pressured into changing their will before they died, a New York City estate attorney will be able to tell you what options you have to challenge this type of will.
There are some situations where it may be understandable that a friend or neighbor was left a large gift in a will. In the case of a long standing and close friendship, the connection between the decedent and their friend may be deeper than the connection with the family. Perhaps a neighbor spent extra time and effort caring for the decedent’s needs, such as assisting with shopping or lawn care, and the family didn’t even know. These are both examples of a perfectly valid explanation as to why a friend or neighbor was somehow favored in a will.
There are other times, however, where it appears that something darker is going on. If that friend or neighbor used other tactics to get the will changed in their favor, it could be symbolic of undue influence or even duress taking place. It could be possible that the non-relative somehow pushed the testator into changing the will to favor them, such as by using manipulation or outright threats. If this is combined with a testator who may have had mental capacity issues, there could be a strong case for overturning the will.
The courts tend to look more harshly at friends and neighbors who have been accused of undue influence, as opposed to relatives. A good reason for this is that, most of the time, it would make sense that a relative would have the affection of the testator and there would be a legitimate desire to leave a gift to them. This could especially be the case when a family member makes sacrifices towards the testator’s care in their later life. However, with friends and neighbors, it usually appears more suspicious on the surface when a large gift is made, except on occasions where there is an especially strong bond.
If you are estate planning and want to make sure a non-relative is favored, you are completely allowed to do that, but you should take some precautions to make sure that the gift is upheld if your family may try to contest the will. One is to have some strong documentation that the will expresses your desires and that you are not being influenced, along with your mental capacity. This can be done with medical exams and videotaping the will execution. Most importantly, you want to make sure that the will is clearly written to express what you want to happen when you die, something that is best accomplished when you hire a New York City estate attorney. You can reach the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233.