Older adults are often encouraged to confirm that their estate plans are complete and up to date to make sure their loved ones adhere to their wishes when the time comes. Family members, friends, and caregivers are encouraged to help their loved ones through the estate planning process, especially if their loved one has cognitive difficulties due to their advanced age or a medical condition.
What is undue influence?
Loved ones are legally allowed to make suggestions to a person creating their estate plan, even if those suggestions end up influencing them. Most of us are influenced by our loved ones’ opinions to some degree. However, if a person crosses the line and takes advantage of their loved one’s vulnerable state, they may be exerting undue influence.
For example, an adult child may exert undue influence on their parent by pressuring them to change their estate plan to remove their sibling as a beneficiary and leave their entire estate to them alone.
Signs of undue influence
It can be hard to tell if someone’s estate plan has been impacted by an undue influence. Look for signs in the relationship between the person exerting their influence (abuser) and the person creating the estate plan (victim), the victim’s behavior, and the estate plan itself.
- Isolation: The abuser may keep the victim isolated from other loved ones to make sure that they have full control over the victim.
- Dependency: The victim may be solely dependent on the abuser in some way (e.g., the abuser is their caregiver and in charge of their medications or finances).
- Threats: The abuser threatened the victim or intimidated them into acting a certain way.
- Guilt/manipulation: The abuser guilted the victim or manipulated them into acting a certain way. For example, the abuser may say that they will not allow the victim to see their grandchildren during the holidays if they do not change their will.
- Sudden changes: Sudden updates or changes to the will/estate plan and the reasons for any changes made (or lack thereof).
- New relationships: A new person enters the victim’s life and quickly takes on a big role in their lives.
If you suspect that your loved one may have been subjected to undue influence, it is better to get help now before it is too late. An estate planning attorney can advise you on what steps to take to ensure that the estate plan accurately reflects your loved one’s wishes.