Undue influence at issue in Cohen will dispute

Will disputes are sometimes part of the probate process. There are a variety of reasons why these disputes can arise, but there are some scenarios that occur more frequently than others. One of the most common bases for will contests is that the testator—the person who executed the will—lacked testamentary capacity.

Other common reasons for initiating such disputes are that the will is a fraud, that the testator was under a temporary delusion at the time of execution, or that he or she was unduly influenced in the disposition of his or her property.  In any of these scenarios, there is almost inevitably going to be a division within the family over who is supposed to get what. Things can get emotional, of course, since it’s family stuff. 

A will dispute is currently in court in New Jersey over the will of Robert Cohen, founder of Hudson News. In that dispute, there are allegations of undue influence. According to Robert Cohen’s granddaughter, her uncle, Robert Cohen’s son, persuaded his father on several occasions before his death to reduce her inheritance. No matter how you slice it, she stands to inherit a lot from the current will, but she is pushing to have that will declared invalid in favor of a previous one she claims to be the last valid will.

Proving undue influence in court is not usually easy to do, since the court has to rely on the testimony of family members, friends, and other who may have a stake in the outcome of the case. Generally, though, courts are looking for evidence that assets were disposed in a way that doesn’t make sense, given the circumstances; that there was a confidential relationship between the accused person and the testator; that the testator was susceptible to undue influence because of some illness or other circumstance; and that the accused person took advantage of the testator in order to get them to change their will.

Proving all of this satisfactorily takes work, and the burden is on the person making the accusation to marshal sufficient evidence. In such cases, it is important to work with an experienced attorney so as to give the case the best possible shot. 

Source: ABC News, “Billionaire’s Daughter in NJ Court in Will Dispute,” David Porter, September 28, 2013. 

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