What is undue influence in the context of Wills?

For a Will to be valid, amongst other things, it must be made on a voluntarily basis and without any pressure from any other person.

In the context of Wills, an undue influence claim can arise when it is suspected that the deceased, who otherwise would have left a valid Will, has done something which they may not have otherwise done if it had not been for the influence of another.  This influence exercised either by coercion, i.e., that the testator’s will was overcome or by fraud. It is important to note that a claim for undue influence is different to that when considering lifetime transactions[1].

For example, in the chase of Chin it was held that the deceased was worn down by pressure from her husband and/or Son to leave her Estate to her Son, rather than making provisions for her daughters, as she had done in her previous Will.

The burden of proof is on the person asserting that the Will was made under undue influence. Historically, the Courts have been cautious when deciding a claim of undue influence[2]. However, in recent years, we are continuing to see an increasing number of cases involving undue influence and the Court’s approach to the evidence supplied has started to shift.

Jones v Jones

In the case of Jones v Jones, the deceased was survived by three of her four daughters, and also had eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. The deceased signed her Will on 4 July 2021, and had not executed any Wills previously. The Will appointed one of her daughters as the executor and sole beneficiary of the estate.

The validity of the Will was challenged on various grounds, which also included a claim that it was created as a result of undue influence.

The Court considered the preparation and execution of the Will and various witness evidence, to establish the facts at the time the Will was prepared. The Court held that although the daughter was persuading the deceased by doing what they thought appropriate to do, in all of the circumstances, it was concluded that what occurred went far beyond persuasion and was indeed undue influence. The Will was therefore ruled invalid, which meant that the deceased then died intestate (leaving no valid Will) and the Estate passed by virtue of the intestacy rules.

Why is this case important?

A claim for undue influence in the context of Wills remains extremely difficult to prove, especially in the absence of direct evidence pointing the same. However, in the absence of direct evidence, the Courts will consider whether the facts are inconsistent with any other explanation other than undue influence.

How can Ellisons help?

Here at Ellisons, we have a specialist team who are able to assist with contested Wills, Trusts and Probate.

If you have any queries relating to an Estate which is in contention, please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our Contentious Probate specialists.

[1] Edwards v Edwards [2007]

[2] Henein V Laffa [2015] EWCA Civ 700