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Understanding estate litigation related to undue influence

When an individual plans for the future of his or her estate, the intention is for the person to be able to make independent and well-informed decisions. Unfortunately, it is possible for people to be conned or manipulated into changing their will to the benefit of someone with ill intentions. In fact, undue influence is at the heart of many estate litigation cases in Ontario.

It is not uncommon to hear about a senior who is pressured or deceived into changing his or her will; perhaps adding a beneficiary who is not a family member, making strange-seeming valuable gifts, or cutting someone out of the will last-minute. Elderly people, especially those with many assets, can be vulnerable to these types of cons. While sometimes these seemingly strange wills do in fact align with the final wishes of the deceased, other times they are the result of something more deceptive.

In estate litigation related to undue influence, the court typically must depend on circumstantial evidence. This is particularly tricky because the person who left the will cannot testify. There are some indicators that courts look for in these cases: a pattern of behaviour from the accused deceptive party, the insistence of using a particular lawyer, or the presence of that person at every stage including the signing of the will.

Estate litigation follows a particular format in Ontario. In a trial related to undue influence, the person contesting the validity of the will must present enough evidence to shift the burden to the beneficiary, who must then prove there was no such influence. Connecting with a lawyer who has experience in these matters is critical for either party in order to present the best case.

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