What Constitutes "Undue Influence" in Florida?
A brief primer on what is encompassed by the phrase "undue influence" as that term is used in legal proceedings within the State of Florida.
Undue InfluenceAside from lack of capacity, the existence of an undue influence is probably the most frequent method of attacking the validity of a trust or will in Florida.
The Courts describe undue influence as being similar to fraud and typically involving excess coercion or overbearing persuasion to such an extent that the “free agency and will power” of the testator or settlor was overcome and/or destroyed. It is frequently said that undue influence was present when the resulting will or trust is really the product of the intentions or desires of another, not necessarily the want or desire of the purported creator.
Legally, the standard requires a showing that the settlor or testator’s mind was “so controlled or affected by persuasion, pressure, artful or fraudulent contrivances, or the influence of persons in close confidential relations with the testator that he or she is not left to act intelligently, understandingly, and voluntarily, but subject to the will or purposes of another.” 17 Fla. Jur 2d Decedents Property s. 162 citing Coppock v. Carlson, 547 So. 2d 946 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989). Undue influence may also be shown by the existence of a “confidential relationship” between the grantor and the beneficiary and by the evidence that the beneficiary actively procured the instrument. Porter v. Estate of Spates, 693 So. 2d 88 (Fla. 1st DCA 1997). More information on what constitutes a “confidential relationship” will follow in a separate post.
Evidentiary BurdensIn Florida, the party seeking to avoid or set aside the will or trust based on undue influence has the evidentiary burden to demonstrate that undue influence was present by the greater weight of the evidence.