What Is Undue Influence?
We influence each other all the time by the things we say and do. There is nothing wrong with expressing opinions or trying to persuade someone, even if the person we’re addressing is frail, elderly, or has dementia, and even if we’re giving opinions about the vulnerable person’s relatives or friends.
When Does Influence Become Undue Influence?
When someone uses a position of trust for their own benefit.
When a person is frail, ill, or confused, they may become dependent on a caregiver or a trusted advisor. This person can gain exert a particularly strong influence. An unscrupulous person may use that influence for his own benefit. The elder may be persuaded to give the influencer his car, joint title to his home, or signing power on a bank account. The influencer may take the elder to an attorney to get a new will drafted with himself as beneficiary.
I Just Found Out That My Parents Changed Their Will Shortly Before Death. What Should I Do if I Suspect They Were Unduly Influenced?
It’s not easy to convince a court that undue influence was at work. In most cases, the family won’t find out the will was changed until the testator (the person who wrote the will) is deceased. At that point, the testator can’t be asked why they changed their will. Every person has the right to give their possessions to anyone they want. However, if your parents made a sudden change in beneficiaries with no explanation, the court will be suspicious.
If you can point to a pattern of a caregiver or someone else isolating the person, refusing to allow family to visit or call, the court is more likely to agree there was undue influence.
If you suspect undue influence, you should consult with an attorney. Our office would be happy to discuss whether the facts appear to support a charge of undue influence that a court would act on.