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Understanding what defines duress vs. undue influence

On Behalf of | Mar 2, 2023 | Estate Disputes

In Oklahoma and other states, duress during estate planning occurs when someone forces an individual to decide while threatening them with harm, violence or imprisonment. Undue influence happens when a person deciding receives pressure through unfair persuasion from someone who has power or authority over them. From a legal standpoint, these two concepts have several other differences, as follows.

Type of pressure

In duress, coercion usually involves physical or emotional behaviors such as threats, blackmail or violence. For example, in an estate litigation claim, an individual might have forced another person to sign a will against their wishes by using serious, threatening behaviors.

Undue influence often uses psychological manipulation, including flattery, isolation, domination or deception. Undue influence can happen when a caretaker controls an elderly adult’s daily activities while shutting out family members. The caretaker may dominate the will of the elderly person and use it as an unfair advantage.

Timing of behavior

Duress usually happens when a decision is being made, like when an individual is signing an estate planning document or giving a gift. Undue influence, however, is often a long process that may involve building a relationship of intimacy and trust over time.

Emotional or physical capacity

In duress, a person might feel fear or anxiety due to threatening behaviors, impairing their ability to decide. Undue influence usually exploits some weakness in an individual, such as illness, age or disability.


If duress takes place, it can invalidate a decision because the person did not decide voluntarily. In undue influence, a decision could become invalid because the person making it did not have sufficient knowledge or consent.

The burden of proof

If a person challenges a decision legally, the party alleging duress must show that it took place while they were making the decision. Similarly, an individual alleging undue influence has the burden of proof to show that the undue influence was exerted over time and resulted in them making a wrong or unfair decision.

Awareness of duress and undue influence tactics can protect you and vulnerable family members from exploitative relatives and other untrustworthy individuals.