One of the most effective methods of challenging a will in Florida is to prove that one or more beneficiaries exercised undue influence over the maker with the intent of receiving favorable treatment in the will. Defending against such an allegation can be difficult, but it is not impossible.
In the 1971 case of In re Estate of Carpenter, the Florida Supreme Court laid out the basic elements required to prove undue influence. The factors enumerated in Estate of Carpenter were later incorporated into Florida statutes. The Supreme Court held that a confidential between a person who is a substantial beneficiary under the will and the maker of the will creates a rebuttable presumption the beneficiary exercised undue influence over the maker of the will. If the person contesting the validity of the will can prove the existence of such a relationship, the burden of persuasion shifts to the party defending the will to prove the nonexistence of undue influence by a preponderance of the evidence. This shift in the burden of persuasion has come to be known as the Carpenter presumption.
Evidence rebutting Carpenter presumption
The most persuasive evidence rebutting the presumption of undue influence may come from the will maker’s attorney. The attorney may have met alone with the testator and may have received explicit instructions from the testator concerning the alleged bequest that is the result of the alleged undue influence. The testator may also have expressed a clear understanding about the effect of the questioned bequest. Similarly effective evidence may include testimony that the testator lived alone and was able to manage his or her daily affairs without the assistance of the person allegedly exercising undue influence.
Other types of evidence that can be used to defeat the Carpenter presumption include conversations between the testator and other family members, the existence of valid reasons to disinherit the person contesting the will.
The foregoing list of evidentiary factors that can be used to rebut the Carpenter presumption is only partial. An experienced probate lawyer can be expected to have access to the many additional types of evidence that can be used to defend the validity of a will.