Signs Of Undue Influence In Estate Planning
When challenging a will, trust, state plan, or bank account designation, one major way that people will challenge it, is “undue influence”. This is where someone else exerts pressure or influence that is so great, the person making the will is essentially coerced into making the changes that the other person wants-changes that usually benefit the wrongdoer, often to the exclusion of family members or others who expected to inherit assets, or at least, inherit more assets than they did.
Classic Signs of Undue Influence
We tend to think of coercion and undue influence as being exerted by some evildoer, standing over the heads of our relatives and threatening him or her if the will isn’t made out in the way that the person wants.
But real undue influence is rarely this obvious–in fact, it can be so subtle, that it can even be hard to recognize.
Usually, family members will know that something about our loved one’s estate plan is “off,” or simply doesn’t make sense.
Maybe it is totally contradictory to our loved ones’ stated wishes that he or she made when alive. But how do you know if a loved one’s estate plan is genuine and not the result of some kind of coercion?
Here are some signs to look for; while no one sign is absolutely indicative of undue influence, a few of these factors should set off alarm bells in the heads of family members, who are concerned that a loved ones’ estate plan isn’t genuine, or made in good faith.
Dependency – This is a big factor; the more the deceased was dependent on the person who suddenly received a windfall from the state plan, the more likely it is that there was undue influence involved.
This isn’t just dependency in day to day activities either; dependency on someone for financial advice, medical advice, or in any other aspect in life, when that advisor or trusted person gets a windfall, can indicate undue influence.
Lack of Capacity – It goes without saying that the more incapacitated someone is or was, the more likely it is that they fell victim to undue influence. If your loved one was suffering from early or late stage dementia, or cognitive disabilities, and suddenly “changed his mind” about his estate plan, it should raise questions.
Isolation – Many times, someone who wants to coerce someone else into altering estate plan documents, will isolate that person from his or her family or loved ones. Your now deceased loved one, in his or her last months, may have been cut off from family. Perhaps family could only communicate with the loved one through the person who ultimately received the windfall in the estate plan.
Abuse – Of course, physical abuse is an obvious sign, and one that can be observed by family. But mental or emotional abuse can be harder for family to detect.
If you did observe the person who received a windfall in the estate plan yelling, insulting, demeaning, or generally treating the loved one poorly–and then that same person gets left significant assets in an estate plan–that can be a sign of undue influence.
Use of Finances – If you suspect that someone received assets or financial support from your deceased loved one, that that person should not have received, or would not, in normal circumstances, have received, and that person gets a windfall from an estate plan, that could also be an indicator of undue influence.
Do you feel that there may have been undue influence that altered a loved one’s estate plan? The Law Offices of Larry E. Bray is ready to help. Contact a West Palm Beach estate planning lawyer at our office today.