Undue influence

Undue influence

Quite a common enquiry we get is that a Deceased relative made a Will leaving their property to someone unexpected, and that the enquirer believes they were unduly influenced by the beneficiary.

This could be someone who has been caring for them, or someone who has formed a friendship with them later in life which may even be described as romantic.

Another common scenario is where the testator made a Will leaving a much greater share of their assets – or perhaps all of their assets – to one of their adult children. Perhaps they were a vulnerable person who was frightened of the child and that child went on to make untrue accusations about other children in the family. In such a scenario, the testator’s own discretion and judgment may become overborne, leading them to make a Will which has effectively been unduly influenced by another (Re Edwards, deceased, 3 May 2007, unreported.)

Re Edwards (deceased)

In this case, Mrs Edwards left her residuary estate to her three sons Ronald, John and Terry in equal shares. During the later years of her life, she had a close relationship with one of the sons Ronald, and also with her son John and his wife Carol.

John and Carol visited Mrs Edwards often, and Carol helped her with chores such as washing and cooking. Mrs Edwards clearly trusted Carol as she made her a signatory to her bank account. Mrs Edwards did not, however, have a good relationship with her third son Terry. Terry was an abusive alcoholic and she was afraid of him.

Just before her death, Mrs Edwards was removed from a nursing home by Terry against medical advice. She then made a new Will which left her whole estate to Terry. Given the above facts, clearly something was amiss. Further, Terry in effect stopped Mrs Edwards from seeing John and Carol for a while. She started to make falso allegations against the couple saying they had stolen items from her, and she refused to see Carol – and therefore John.

It should perhaps come as no surprise reading these facts that the judge found Mrs Edwards Will to have been procured by Terry’s undue influence. As a result, her previous Will applied. There was no other reasonable explanation for Mrs Edwards to turn against John and Carol, with whom she had previously had a positive relationship, other than Terry poisoning her mind. The judge found that the effect of the false allegations imparted to her by Terry was “to cause her own discretion and judgment to be overborne”.

Note that the facts in this case might also meet the definition of “fraudulent calumny” – however, although the judge discussed this, it was not applied to the result of the case.

The above provides a very clear example of undue influence and should give you some idea of the circumstances in which such a claim might arise.

Case ref: Re Edwards (deceased) Edwards v Edwards and another, [2007] All ER (D) 46 (May)