Getting older or suffering from a serious ailment can affect people in several ways. In some cases, their mental or physical health can decline to a point where they are no longer capable of making decisions in their own best interests. Upsettingly, there are some people who aim to take advantage of a person in this state by manipulating or otherwise coercing him or her into making certain decisions.
This is undue influence, and it is one reason parties may contest a will during probate. Undue influence can invalidate estate planning decisions because they may not truly reflect a person’s wishes. Therefore, it is crucial to know what undue influence might look like.
Often, an influencer is someone in a position of control or authority. This might include medical workers or aides, financial institutions, a guardian or conservator. They may provide inaccurate information or withhold things like food and medication to manipulate a person’s health and decisions.
Unfortunately, an influencer can also be someone who creates or exploits a personal relationship with the targeted person. These influencers may isolate the person or tell lies to make it seem like they are the only ones who can be trusted.
Certain actions should raise concerns that a loved one’s decisions are not free from influence. An influencer may attempt to:
- Isolate the person from loved ones through deceit
- Minimize occasions where the person is alone with someone else
- Speak on behalf of the person
- Circumvent other authority figures or family members to make decisions
- Purposefully leave others out of meetings
- Have the person make changes to legal documentation without notifying other interested parties
- Gain control of and manage a person’s finances when such an arrangement is unwise or unnecessary
If these signs were present before a person drafted or changed a will, there could be grounds to contest the will based on undue influence.
Undue influence can be difficult to identify and prove in court. However, it is not impossible, especially with the help of an attorney skilled in pursuing claims of this and other grounds to dispute a will. And while it may be troubling to take this type of action during probate, doing so can be crucial in protecting the true wishes of a loved one.