Ten Factors Courts Consider When Analyzing A Claim For Undue Influence Of A Will Or Trust In Florida
In trust and estate litigation, parties often contest the validity of a trust or will by claiming the decedent was unduly influenced by a beneficiary when the trust or will was created. When determining whether undue influence occurred, Florida courts consider a number of different factors.
The Seven Carpenter FactorsIn order to prove undue influence, the challenging party must prove that the defending beneficiary had a confidential relationship with the decedent and actively procured the will or trust. Active procurement is often difficult to prove because the person who made the will or trust is deceased and the challenging party usually must rely on circumstantial evidence. Luckily, the Florida Supreme Court set forth seven criteria to be considered in determining whether active procurement took place: 1. Presence of the defending beneficiary at the execution of the will; 2. Presence of the defending beneficiary on those occasions when the testator expressed a desire to make a will; 3. Recommendation by the defending beneficiary of an attorney to draw the will; 4. Knowledge of the contents of the will by the defending beneficiary prior to execution; 5. Giving of instructions on preparation of the will by the defending beneficiary to the attorney drawing the will; 6. Securing of witnesses to the will by the defending beneficiary; and 7. Safekeeping of the will by the defending beneficiary subsequent to execution. These are known as the seven "Carpenter factors," named for the case out of which they arose, In re Estate of Carpenter, 253 So. 2d 697, 702 (Fla. 1971). In describing these factors, the Florida Supreme Court stated: "The criteria we have set out cannot be considered exclusive; and we may expect supplementation by other relevant considerations appearing in subsequent cases. Moreover, we do not determine that contestants should be required to prove all the listed criteria to show active procurement. We assume that in the future, as in the past, as it will be the rare case in which all the criteria will be present. We have troubled to set them out primarily in the hope that they will aid trial judges in looking for those warning signals pointing to active procurement of a will by a beneficiary." Meaning, these factors are neither required nor exclusive, and Florida courts are free to consider other factors which may evidence active procurement.
Being Critical Family Members and Isolating the TestatorIn addition to the seven Carpenter Factors, Florida courts have found undue influence where a defending beneficiary purposefully isolated the decedent by denying access to family and friends. Likewise, Florida courts have found undue influence where a defending beneficiary purposefully isolated the decedent in combination with disparaging other family members, who otherwise would have received an inheritance from the decedent.
Mental Inequality Between The Decedent And The Defending BeneficiaryAnother factor Florida courts have considered to determine whether a will was procured by undue influence is the mental inequality between the decedent and defending beneficiary. In essence, this factor compares the mental capabilities of the decedent and the defending beneficiary and determines if the defending beneficiary held a significant mental advantage over the decedent.
How Reasonable Is The Will Or TrustFinally, Florida courts will sometimes examine just how reasonable the will or trust is. Florida courts have previously found wills and trusts to be procured by undue influence simply by how not of the norm they are. For example, the Florida Supreme Court previously found a will was obtained by undue influence because the decedent left nothing to his beloved child, but a very large inheritance to his affluent wife.