Undue Influence Does Not Always Involve a New Friend or Spouse Manipulating a Vulnerable Elderly Person
Undue influence is a common reason for family members to contest wills during probate. The stereotypical undue influence case is when a new friend or love interest quickly forms a close relationship with an elderly person who is vulnerable because of ill health or the recent loss of a spouse. The undue influencer convinces the elderly person to change their will, leaving assets to the influencer that were to go to family members in the previous version of the will. Sometimes the undue influencer even persuades the elderly person to marry them. When the estate is in probate, the disinherited family members argue, sometimes successfully, that the will is not valid because the decedent signed the will under duress or did not understand what they were signing. The case of the estate of Andrea Straka proves that not all probate disputes over undue influence involved elderly or widowed people. If you think that your recently deceased relative’s will is the result of undue influence, no matter the decedent’s age, contact a Maryland probate attorney.
An Extraordinarily Detailed Will for a Young Decedent
Andrea Straka died in 2016 at age 37, following an illness caused by a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. Less than a week after her death, her father George Straka filed a petition with the court to open her estate for probate. As far as he knew, Andrea did not leave a will. She did not have children and had never been married; one of the closest people in her life was her friend Bill Mumma, who is mentioned in her obituary. According to the laws of intestate succession, if an unmarried, childless person who dies without a will is survived by his or her parents, the parents inherit the person’s assets. Straka estimated the value of Andrea’s estate at $300,000, mostly in the form of real estate.
The same day, Andrea’s friend Amy Shealer filed a will with the Register of Wills and attempted to open the estate for probate, with herself as personal representative. The will, dated July 31, 2015, named Mumma and Shealer as personal representatives, but Mumma had declined to act as personal representative. The will was very detailed, dividing Andrea’s will among several friends, her sisters, and various charities. It bore the signatures of two attorneys. Straka contested the will, alleging undue influence, and a long legal battle ensued over whether the will was valid and who should be personal representative of Andrea’s estate.
The Bottom Line
You are never too young to write a will. You should tell your family where to find the will. You do not have to tell your parents about the contents of your will if they refuse to talk about the possibility of predeceasing them, but tell your siblings a general idea of its contents. This way, your family will have a general idea of whether a will presented to the court is authentic.
Let Us Help You Today
If people in your deceased family member’s life are telling conflicting versions of what the decedent wanted for their estate, you need a lawyer. Contact the Washington DC probate attorneys at Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing for help.