Probate & Estate Administration in North Carolina: An Overview of Undue Influence Claims

When a person passes away in North Carolina, their will must be submitted and recognized by a probate court. It is a key part of the overall estate administration process. In most cases, wills are accepted and probate proceeds without a dispute over the will’s validity. However, there are exceptions. In North Carolina, the validity of a will can be challenged (contested) on the grounds of undue influence. Here, our Monroe probate & estate administration lawyers provide an in-depth overview of undue influence claims in North Carolina.

What is Undue Influence?

Undue influence refers to a situation in which a person has been coerced or manipulated into making decisions that they would not have made otherwise, particularly concerning estate planning and wills. In North Carolina, a will can be contested on the grounds of undue influence if it can be shown that the testator, or the person making the will, was subjected to such pressure or coercion that they were unable to make their own decisions freely. Most often, these cases involve allegations that a caregiver, relative, or another individual with close access exerted undue pressure over a vulnerable person to improperly gain a larger share of the estate.

A Will May Be Invalidated On the Grounds of Undue Influence

Undue influence is no small matter. Indeed, in North Carolina, a will may be invalidated on the grounds of undue influence. As noted previously, undue influence refers to a situation in which someone uses their position of power or influence to manipulate the testator into making certain provisions in their will. If it can be proven that undue influence played a role in the creation of a will, the court may declare it invalid. Alternatively, a court may rule certain provisions invalid. A previous will could be reinstated, the will could be reformed in some manner, or the estate may be distributed in accordance with the North Carolina intestacy laws. These are fact-specific cases.

Know How Undue Influence is Defined in a North Carolina Probate Case

Undue influence is among the most challenging types of probate disputes. By definition, the party contesting a will on the basis of undue influence must raise arguments regarding the state of mind and the intent of the parties, including the decedent. After all, if the decedent was of sound mind and intended to write the will as it was submitted to the probate court, it is not undue influence. North Carolina defines undue influence as a situation in which a person’s “professed act is not their own.” The North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions for Civil Cases are clear: The party challenging a will on the grounds of undue influence has the burden of proof. It is their responsibility to establish that the will does not represent the true intent of the testator.

You Have a Limited Amount of Time to Contest a Will for Undue Influence

Parties do not have an indefinite amount of time to challenge (contest) a will on the grounds of undue influence. In our state, this type of will challenge is done through the filing of a “caveat.” Under North Carolina state law (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31-32), a caveat to a will must be filed within three years of the date that the will in question was entered into probate.

Involved in a Contested Probate Case: Seek Professional Legal Help

Locked in a contested probate case where there are allegations of undue influence? It is essential that you seek professional guidance and support from an experienced Monroe, NC probate law attorney as soon as possible. A contested probate case can be complex, emotionally charged, and financially draining—especially so where there are allegations of undue influence of a will. The right legal representation can make the difference. A North Carolina probate and estate administration attorney can help you navigate the legal system, understand your rights and obligations, and develop a strategy that aligns with your goals.

Schedule a Confidential Consultation With a Monroe, NC Probate Attorney Today

At Plyler, Long & Corigliano, LLP, we have extensive experience representing clients with probate and estate administration matters in North Carolina. If you have any specific questions or concerns about undue influence claims, we can help. Contact us now to arrange a fully private case review. From our Monroe office, we provide probate and estate administration representation throughout Union County, including in Mint Hills, Stallings, Waxhaw, Weddington, and Matthews.