What Must Be Proven When Claiming Undue Influence in NJ?

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What Must Be Proven When Claiming Undue Influence In Nj

In New Jersey, the legal challenge of undue influence within estate litigation is a pressing issue. This arises when excessive pressure compromises an individual's decisions about their will or estate plan, often reflecting the desires of someone else rather than the true wishes of the deceased. This article aims to clarify the process of contesting a will under the suspicion of undue influence, offering actionable insights for those questioning the authenticity of a loved one's final wishes.

Understanding Undue Influence in New Jersey

What is Considered Undue Influence?

Undue influence occurs when a person exploits their relationship to manipulate someone else's estate decisions. In New Jersey, proving undue influence involves demonstrating the influencer's motive and opportunity, leading to a will that deviates from expected norms. These cases, emotionally charged and legally complex, underscore the necessity for professional guidance.

The Psychological Aspects of Undue Influence

Victims of undue influence often experience dependency, trust, and isolation. Recognizing the tactics used by influencers, such as isolation and emotional manipulation, is crucial for identifying and proving undue influence.

Evidence and Burden of Proof

New Jersey's legal framework requires the challenger to present evidence of undue influence. Demonstrating a confidential relationship and suspicious circumstances shifts the burden of proof, compelling the will's defender to prove its validity. This underscores New Jersey's commitment to reflecting the testator's true intentions.

Key Elements to Prove Undue Influence

  • Confidential Relationship: A confidential relationship between the deceased and the influencer, such as a caregiver or a close advisor, is a red flag. This relationship suggests a level of trust that could be exploited.
  • Susceptibility: Demonstrating the decedent's vulnerability due to physical or mental conditions is crucial. Evidence of such conditions can significantly support a claim.
  • Opportunity: Showing that the influencer had the chance to exert undue influence, perhaps by being a constant presence or controlling access to the deceased, is crucial.
  • Unnatural Bequest: A will that significantly deviates from what is expected, such as disproportionately favoring one beneficiary or leaving out close family members without a clear reason, may suggest undue influence.
  • Active Procurement: Proving the influencer played a direct role in the creation or alteration of the will is critical. This could include arranging for the attorney or being present at the will's signing.

Gathering Evidence For Your Case

Building a strong case requires comprehensive evidence, including:

  • Testimonies: From those who witnessed the relationship dynamics.
  • Medical Records: Detailing the decedent's condition.
  • Communications: Any relevant correspondence.

Professional legal guidance is invaluable for effectively identifying, collecting, and presenting evidence.

Contesting a will involves several steps, from filing a legal challenge to potentially negotiating settlements. Strategic legal planning and skilled representation are essential for overcoming challenges like proving the influencer's control or the decedent's vulnerability.

Contact Ritigstein Law Today For A Consultation To Discuss Your Undue Influence Claim

When the final wishes of your loved ones are overshadowed by undue influence, the path to justice requires not just legal expertise, but a compassionate ally who understands the delicate nature of your situation. At Ritigstein Law, we stand at the forefront of estate litigation in South Jersey, specializing in rectifying the wrongs of undue influence.

We understand that contesting a will or other estate documents is about more than just legal outcomes—it's about honoring the true intentions of those you hold dear. With a meticulous eye for detail and a steadfast commitment to our clients, we navigate the complexities of New Jersey law to uncover the truth and restore fairness.

If you suspect undue influence and need to challenge a will or estate plan, don't navigate this challenging time alone. Ritigstein Law is here to guide you through the legal process with expertise, dignity, and unwavering support. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards justice for your loved one.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How long do I have to contest a will in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, the window for contesting a will is relatively narrow. You typically have up to four months from the date the will is admitted to probate if you're in-state, and six months if you're out-of-state. It's crucial to consult with a legal professional as soon as possible to ensure your challenge is filed within this timeframe.

Q2. Can undue influence be claimed for non-will documents?

Absolutely. Undue influence can affect various legal documents, including trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives. If you believe any of these documents were created or altered under undue influence, they can also be contested in court.

Q3. What are the possible outcomes?

The outcomes of an undue influence claim can vary widely depending on the specifics of the case. Possible resolutions include:

  • Invalidation of the contested will, leading to the application of a previous will or, in the absence of one, New Jersey's intestacy laws.
  • Revisions to the distribution of the estate to more accurately reflect the decedent's intentions, as determined through the legal process.
  • Settlements reached outside of court, where parties come to a mutual agreement on the distribution of the estate.

Each case is unique, and the outcome will depend on the evidence presented, the quality of legal representation, and the specifics of the contested document.

Q4. Are there specific signs of undue influence I should look for?

Signs of undue influence can be subtle and vary from case to case. However, common indicators include:

  • Sudden changes in estate plans that favor one individual disproportionately without a clear reason.
  • Isolation of the decedent from friends and family, coinciding with increased control or presence of the influencer.
  • Unusual financial transactions or changes in the decedent's financial habits, especially if they benefit the influencer.
  • The decedent's diminished capacity, making them more susceptible to manipulation, coupled with the influencer's active involvement in the creation or modification of legal documents.

Recognizing these signs is the first step towards contesting undue influence. For detailed guidance and support, contact Ritigstein Law to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards justice for your loved one.


Michael Ritigstein is a Founding Partner of the firm concentrating his efforts in supporting the firm's litigation, corporate and estate matters. Mr. Ritigstein graduated from the University of Delaware in 1996 and Seton Hall University School of Law in 2000. In 2007 he received a Masters of Law in Taxation with a concentration in Estate Planning, from Temple University's Beasley School of Law.

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