July 5th, 2023

Undue Influence in Estate Litigation

Wills and Trusts are critical estate planning instruments that permit us to determine what happens to money and property when we die or are no longer able to manage our own affairs. However, creating these instruments can often drastically change who is entitled to receive an inheritance and indeed what they may or may not receive. Where there is fraud or undue influence in the creation or revision of a Will or Trust, a person’s rights to inheritance are often directly and drastically changed or even eliminated. If you suspect such fraud or undue influence, the experienced Estate Litigators at Gross McGinley are here to offer counsel and act as a champion to challenge an improper exertion of undue influence.

In Pennsylvania, undue influence occurs when someone uses “fraud, or threats, or misrepresentations, or circumvention, or inordinate flattery or physical or moral coercion, to such a degree as to prejudice the mind of the testator, to destroy his free agency and to operate as a present restraint upon him in the making of a will.”[1]

Specifically undue influence has three elements:

  • The person making the Will or Trust suffered from weakened intellect
  • The person making the Will or Trust was in a confidential relationship with the proponent of that instrument
  • The proponent receives a substantial benefit from the Will or Trust in question.[2]

New Jersey Law is similar, but slightly different: Under New Jersey law “undue influence is a mental, moral, or physical exertion of a kind and quality that destroys the free will of the testator by preventing that person from following the dictates of his or her own mind as it relates to the disposition of assets.” [3]

To meet the requirements of undue influence in New Jersey:

  • The Will or Trust must benefit the individual who has a
  • The confidential relationship to the testator; and
  • There are additional “suspicious circumstances.”[4]

Let the estate litigation attorneys at Gross McGinley review the facts and details of your case.  Discuss with them how to contest a Will or Trust in Pennsylvania or New Jersey and whether a Will or Trust contest lawsuit is appropriate in your case.

Attorney Adrian K. Cousens is the Co-lead Attorney of the Trusts and Estate Litigation and Litigation Groups and is a Partner at Gross McGinley. 

Geneva Litz is a 3rd-year law student at Drexel University and a participant in the Gross McGinley Summer 2023 Associate Program.


[1] In re Estate of Smaling, 80 A.3d 485, 497 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013) (citations omitted)

[2] In re Staico, 143 A.3d 983, 990 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2016) (citations omitted)

[3] In re Estate of Folcher, 135 A.3d 128, 137 (N.J. 2016)

[4] In re Estate of Stockdale, 953 A.2d 454, 470 (N.J. 2008) (citations omitted)

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.