A person forced to act against their will is a victim of duress. This “undue influence” is psychological or physical coercion carried out against someone too vulnerable to resist. For example, forcing someone to sign a contract by threatening their personal safety. Because this agreement didn’t occur freely, the law considers it invalid. This article reviews signs of duress in probate litigation.
Validity of the Will
As stated above, a contract is void unless signed willingly, which, of course, includes wills. But the problem is that proving there were signs of duress can be difficult, especially when people have reason to be unhappy with the legal document in question.
Methods Used for Control
Like other forms of abuse, duress is ultimately about control, and there are two main types:
Physical Duress: This may include physical attacks or intimidation, resulting in bodily harm.
Duress by Improper Threat: It’s more common for perpetrators to gain control with threats, than actual physical violence. Unfortunately, it’s also more challenging to identify.
Signs of Duress
- Withholding medication, food, or other vital necessities
- Taking control of the victim’s finances
- Unexplained changes to estate plans, perhaps while the victim is hospitalized
- Physical injuries
- Anxiety, depression, or confusion
- Emotional withdrawal
Proving Signs of Duress
When a victim depends on another person for food or shelter, medication, or even access to their own finances, it’s not a stretch to imagine the abusive ways control might be exercised. For example, in the case of elder abuse. Sadly, this is a classic example of vulnerability plus an opportunity for manipulation.
California bars inheritance based on the grounds of undue influence, whether that includes financial exploitation, elder neglect, or mental and/or physical violence. But coercion can be complex to prove in court. If you suspect signs of duress, we can help. For more information, please contact our legal team to schedule an appointment. Office staff can be reached Monday through Friday (9:00 am to 5:00 pm) at (925) 447-1250.