Boynton Law Blog

Undue Influence of a Will in Probate

Palm Beach Family Argues Undue Influence of a Will in Probate court

A death in the family can be distressing and emotionally draining for those left behind. In a recent case brought before the Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court, however, the death of a father had serious financial consequences for his daughter. Jennie Scaife of Palm Beach  is currently contesting the will of her father, Dick Scaife, who served as the publisher of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tribune-Review prior to his death on July 4, 2014. Neither of Dick Scaife’s children were left anything in his will.

Allegations of Undue Influence in probate

Jennie Scaife alleges that the two executors of the will, H. Yale Gutnick and James Walton, took advantage of her father during his illness. According to Ms. Scaife, the two executors exercised undue influence over the father, which led directly to his removal of both his children from his will. The executors are contesting this conclusion, noting that Ms. Scaife had been removed from her father’s will years before. Additionally, neither of the two executors received a bequest from Dick Scaife’s estate; this may make it difficult to prove motivation in this case.

Grounds for Challenging a Will

The Scaife case highlights some of the issues involved in successfully contesting a will. Florida law prescribes only four specific grounds for challenging a will in the state:

• Fraud: If the person making the will has been deceived regarding the type of document he or she is signing or if they are materially misled regarding matters of fact that could influence their decisions regarding the disposition of their estate, then the will is subject to challenge.

• Incapacity: In some cases, the person making the will may not be of sound mind due to mental or physical illness or the influence of strong drugs. The person challenging the will must demonstrate a lack of testamentary capacity at the time that the will was made to challenge these legal documents successfully.

• Undue Influence: Three criteria must be met to prove undue influence. First, the influencer must have actively worked toward the creation of the will. He or she must also have been in close contact with the person making the will. Finally, the alleged influencer must also be one of the primary beneficiaries.

• Duress: If it can be proven that the will was made under threat of physical harm or some other type of coercion, it can be contested in a Florida court.

Time is of the essence when pursuing these legal actions. In general, claimants have just 90 days to file suit after the receipt of a Notice of Administration. If this documentation is received before the will enters probate, the time period is reduced to 20 days. Consulting with a Boynton Beach Probate law firm that specializes in these types of cases can ensure that the rights of potential beneficiaries are protected in the legal environment.