The most common challenge to the validity of a will or trust is undue influence. According to Ohio law, if all or any portion of a will or trust is proven to be the product of undue influence, then the whole will or trust (or that portion procured by undue influence) is invalid. Undue influence is also grounds for invalidation of pay-on-death beneficiary designations and lifetime transfers and gifts.
Undue influence is a cause of action used to challenge the validity of a testamentary document, such as a will, trust, deed, and other transfers. As Ohio courts have consistently noted, the conduct of a person charged with "undue influence, as it is required for invalidation of a will or trust, must amount to over persuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances to such a degree that there is the destruction of the free agency and will power of the one making the will or trust.
Undue influence is a species of fraud that is proven through circumstantial evidence. Since undue influence is not usually exercised openly in the presence of others, it can be proved by indirect evidence of facts and circumstances from which it may be inferred. No one set of facts or circumstances, when considered alone, may be of much weight, but when combined with other facts, they might be sufficient to establish the issue.
Undue influence cases in Ohio are proven through circumstantial evidence and involve a shifting burden of proof. Extensive discovery of estate planning records, medical records, and financial materials is usually required to prove undue influence cases.