When a parent marries later in life, adult children may not have many opportunities to observe the new marital dynamics. The new spouse may not ever seem like a stepparent. If the parent dies and leaves most of the anticipated inheritance to the spouse, the adult children may wonder whether the relationship was real or a front to obtain assets.
If the children or other beneficiaries want to contest the will, they may have to prove that the stepparent had undue influence over their parent when he or she changed the will.
The stepparent’s role in the will
According to The Florida Bar, a confidential relationship between the testator and the primary beneficiary of the will can sometimes be a signal that undue influence was a factor in the creation of the new will. The following may also indicate undue influence if three or more are true:
- The stepparent is present when the parent talks about making a will
- The stepparent recommends the attorney who draws the will
- The stepparent knows the contents of the will before execution
- The stepparent secures the witnesses to sign the will
- The stepparent provides the will’s preparation instructions to the attorney
- The stepparent has the safekeeping of the will
If the will’s provisions in favor of the stepparent appear unreasonable compared to what the parent bequeathed to the children, the validity of the document may come into question.
The stepparent’s relationship with the parent
Spouses do talk to each other about these types of things, though, so simply having a part in the estate planning process is not enough. If the stepparent isolated the parent from the children and other family members, that could indicate he or she was attempting undue influence. If the spouses were on unequal footing mentally due to illness or dementia, the children may also be able to prove undue influence.
Before contesting a will, beneficiaries should check for a no challenge clause that would disinherit them for taking the matter to court.