Master of Manipulation - Undue Influence in Wills

12th September 2019 Will Disputes

In a recent case, Benjamin Fields, a Church Warden in the village of Maids Moreton in Northern Buckinghamshire, targeted two elderly, vulnerable individuals in the community, Mr Farquhar and Miss Moore-Martin, in order to influence these individuals to alter their wills in his favour. Mr Fields has now been convicted of the murder of Mr Farquhar along with numerous counts of burglary and fraud.

Miss Moore-Martin was fortunately able to amend her will before she died after Mr Fields’s crimes were discovered. Sadly Mr Farquhar was not as fortunate and he died leaving Mr Fields £20,000 and a life interest in his property.

Whilst this is an extreme example of how an individual can influence someone to change their will, the issue of undue influence can be much more subtle and can mean that the wishes of a loved one are not fulfilled.

Undue influence is any influence exercised over someone by coercion or fraud, whereby the testator’s own wishes are overpowered. It is important to note that persuasion is insufficient to prove that undue influence has occurred, the influence must go further than this to the extent that the influencer has manipulated the mind of testator. When considering undue influence it is important to bear in mind the following:

  • The person making the suggestion that there has been undue influence has the burden of proving it;

  • The physical and mental well-being of the testator at the time the suspected undue influence occurred is relevant, as this may have left them more vulnerable to coercion

  • There must be no other explanation for the actions of the testator

  • Likely to be highly relevant in claims of this nature are the circumstances around the drafting and execution of the will: whether a solicitor was involved, who witnessed the execution of the will, any previous wills and what they contained, as this may assist with establishing a claim of undue influence

There is a high standard of proof when bringing a claim for undue influence. They are often difficult to prove as there is often a lack of evidence as, by its nature, coercion usually takes place in secret and the testator has usually passed away, making it impossible to enquire after their true intentions when it is being challenged. However, this does not mean that a claim for undue influence will not be successful and detailed consideration should be given as to the merits in any particular circumstances.

If, upon the passing of a loved one, it appears that something has been left to someone who is unfamiliar to you or there appears to be inconsistencies with what you thought to be the wishes of the testator, then it may be possible that someone has influenced the testator to alter their will.

At JMW we handle a wide range of disputes of this nature. If you consider that a loved one may have been subject to any form of undue influence in creating their will, our experienced team can assist you and offer expert advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

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Beth Kelly is a Paralegal located in Manchester in our Commercial Litigation, Will and Trust Disputes department

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