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Worried That a Sizeable Estate or Trust Gift Was Procured by Undue Influence?

May 30, 2019

By: Melody Lynch

Do you have a loved one who recently passed away and you are concerned that their will or trust was procured by undue influence? Although the law on undue influence has not evolved much since the seminal Florida Supreme Court case of In re Estate of Carpenter in 1971, the greying of the population in Florida has resulted in an increase in undue influence claims in the courts. In order to prove undue influence in Florida, you must demonstrate that a substantial beneficiary acquired an asset via undue influence. This person must have had a confidential relationship and must have actively procured the gift in one of the following ways: (1) presence of the beneficiary at execution of the document; (2) presence of the beneficiary when the person expressed the desire to make a will or form a trust; (3) the beneficiary recommends the attorney who prepared the will or trust; (4) the beneficiary knows the contents of the will or trust prior to execution; (5) the beneficiary gives direction to the attorney preparing the document; (6) the beneficiary secures witnesses for execution; or (7) the beneficiary maintains the will or trust for safekeeping. 

How do you know if the actions taken rise to the level of undue influence? While each situation is factually distinct, courts have recently described undue influence as over persuasion, duress, or coercion which is so strong that it destroys the free will of the person who is crafting their estate plan. Expiration of the statute of limitations is often a defense to undue influence claims. However, the delayed discovery doctrine applies to undue influence claims and will toll the statute of limitations on these claims until the facts giving rise to the cause of action are discovered or should have been discovered by a reasonable person. Therefore, it is important not to delay in seeking advice about a potential undue influence claim.

If you have questions about undue influence or any other issues related to challenging or contesting a gift in a will or trust, please contact Melody Lynch at 407-418-6447 or melody.lynch@lowndes-law.com.


Melody

Melody Lynch focuses her practice on probate, trust & fiduciary litigation, contested guardianships, and complex business disputes. Her MBA complements her law degree when she analyzes financial statements and handles other complicated issues involving assets. 

A significant portion of Melody’s practice is devoted to resolving conflicts among family members and other estate beneficiaries, fights over missing assets and property ownership, claims by or against fiduciaries, guardianship challenges, and other proceedings requiring the interpretation of wills and trusts. She frequently helps charitable organizations, foundations, trustees and other institutional beneficiaries of large estates navigate the probate process. Whether in or out of the courtroom, Melody handles these delicate – and often emotional – issues not just with legal proficiency but with compassion as well.  

Melody’s experience extends to other business disputes too, particularly in the employment law arena with matters involving restrictive covenants as well as non-compete and non-disclosure agreements. She has protected employers in a wide range of industries, including medical devices, pest control, physicians and physician practices. 

In addition, she is a Guardian ad Litem for the Legal Aid Society where she represents the interests of abused and neglected children. She also is a pro bono attorney for Seniors First where she represents the interests of indigent elderly wards. 

The court room isn’t the only stage on which Melody has appeared. Before pursuing her career in law, Melody attended college on a ballet scholarship and was an apprentice dancer with a professional ballet company. A native of Orlando, her passion for both the arts and the area informs her leadership roles in the Central Florida community. She serves as president-elect of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, was named to the prestigious Orlando Business Journal’s "40 under 40" list, and was awarded the Presidential Leadership Award by the Orange County Bar Association. 

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