Challenging a Will Based on Undue Influence in Ontario: An Overview

last will and testament documentDo you have reason to suspect a loved one made a will under coercion?

In estate law, coercion is just one example of undue influence that could invalidate portions of a will, or even an entire will. However, the burden of proof for this type of claim is on the party claiming undue influence.

Below, Greg Monforton and Partners provides an overview of undue influence in Ontario estate litigation cases, including what it means and common situations where it occurs. We also discuss  proving an undue influence claim.

If you have questions about estate litigation cases, contact our Windsor estate litigation lawyers to learn how we may be able to help.

Call Greg Monforton and Partners today: (866) 320-4770.

What Does Undue Influence Mean Under Ontario Law

According to Ontario case law, undue influence arises when the testator (person who made the will) agrees to the terms/changes to a will or makes other decisions about their estate through coercion or manipulation. Undue influence happens when someone abuses power or trust to deprive the victim of his or her free will.

Undue influence results in decisions the testator would not have otherwise made. The person exerting undue influence substitutes his or her objective for what the testator wants.

There are many forms of undue influence:

  • Physical or verbal threats
  • Emotional pressure
  • Financial exploitation

Ontario law allows persuasion of a testator, but this becomes illegal when it crosses into dominating the will of another person.

It is crucial to consult with an experienced legal professional to understand the complexities of undue influence and the specific requirements for proving it in Ontario’s legal system.

Common Situations Where Undue Influence Occurs

Undue influence may be more likely to happen in certain situations, such as when there is a significant power imbalance between two parties. For instance, there are significant power imbalances between:

  • Caregivers and the elderly
  • Children and their parents
  • Anyone in a position of trust with a vulnerable individual, such as someone who has physical or mental disabilities

Another factor in undue influence is a lack of familial or social networks. Without a support system, the testator may lack access to independent counsel and be more susceptible to manipulation by those with their own interests.

Some undue influence claims involve the testator being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In such cases, the testator’s judgment may be impaired, making them more susceptible to manipulation and unable to make sound decisions.

Proving Undue Influence in Ontario Estate Litigation

Proving undue influence in court can be a challenge because the burden of proof is on the person making the allegation. Courts will carefully examine the circumstances, considering the nature of the relationship between the parties. Courts will also assess the vulnerability of the individual who was allegedly influenced and the presence of any suspicious or unusual circumstances.

Past court cases have established various indicators that undue influence may have occurred:

  • Directing the testator to another lawyer that he or she does not know, with the intention of drafting a new will
  • The testator has become increasingly isolated from others
  • The testator appears to be dependent on the person alleged to be exerting undue influence, such as for physical or emotional needs
  • Large transfers of money from the testator to the alleged influencer
  • Drafting a new will that is not consistent with previous versions of the will
  • Making changes similar to the changes made in other documents, such as the testator’s power of attorney
  • The testator does not provide a reason for leaving his or her estate to the alleged influencer
  • The testator does not provide a reason for excluding family members who expect to receive an inheritance
  • The testator said he or she was running out of money
  • Documentation showing the testator said he or she was afraid of the person who allegedly exerted undue influence

The nature of the relationship between the testator and the alleged influencer is a crucial element. If the influencer was in a position of trust or authority, such as a caregiver or a family member with significant influence, the court may scrutinize their actions more closely.

Courts will also scrutinize the nature and extent of the alleged undue influence:

  • Did the influencer use threats, coercion or manipulation to pressure the testator into making the will?
  • Were there any suspicious or unusual circumstances surrounding the drafting of the will?

The ultimate question for the court is whether the will reflects what the testator wants.

Call Greg Monforton and Partners About Your Undue Influence Claim

Estate litigation can be complex and highly emotional, especially when one of the parties involved asserts there is undue influence. Our experienced lawyers understand these situations can be emotionally charged and we are committed to advocating for your best interests every step of the way.

Contact our firm today to discuss how we may be able to assist you: (866) 320-4770.