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By: Scott Grossman on August 28th, 2016

Suspect Undue Influence

After the loss of your loved one, you may proceed with wrapping up his or her affairs by initiating the probate proceedings with the probate court. Even before reading the will and other estate documents, you may believe that you know who was to receive what property based upon assumptions about your loved one’s relationships as well as previous conversations on the subject. Much to your surprise, however, you may discover that your loved one had a life insurance policy that named someone entirely unexpected as the beneficiary. Perhaps the original beneficiary was a child or other family member, and this designation was later changed, without notice to other family members. Fortunately for the loved ones of the decedent, you do not simply have to accept the beneficiary designation as it stands. If you suspect undue influence may have been exerted over your loved one, you may have cause to pursue litigation in an attempt to have the change in beneficiary designations overturned.

While overturning a beneficiary designation of a life insurance policy is not a simple matter, it can be done if you can demonstrate that the change resulted from undue influence.

If you suspect undue influence ask yourself these questions:

  • Did the beneficiary take unfair advantage over the decedent while the decedent relied on the beneficiary for his or her daily living needs?
  • Did the beneficiary take unfair advantage over the decedent while the decedent was experiencing weakness of mind caused by dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or some other type of mental disability?
  • Did the beneficiary take unfair advantage over the decedent while he or she was experiencing a stressful situation?

The court will also consider whether the decedent and the beneficiary had a confidential relationship, such as through a conservatorship, by virtue of being trustee of a trust, or even just by having a parent-child relationship. It will also consider whether the beneficiary was an active participant in the changing of the beneficiary designation and whether the beneficiary received an “undue benefit” as a result of the amended designation. If these scenarios apply to the current situation, the burden of proof may shift to the beneficiary to demonstrate that he or she did not exert undue influence over the decedent.


If you are ready to start your case, then please give us a call or fill out our Get Help Now form. A comprehensive overview of California Probate is available here. Should you have additional questions about trust litigation, you will find plenty of useful information in our Learning Center.