When an individual or family has assets, they want to see equitably distributed to their heirs, they often put an estate plan in place to ensure that their wishes are carried out after their death. In fact, it’s considered good practice to have a will and/or trust drawn up well before such an event is considered likely, to avoid having an accident or sudden illness rob the decedent of the chance to determine how their property should be distributed. However, what happens when the terms of that will or trust no longer seem to conform to that person’s wishes? Families who are unpleasantly surprised by unexpected changes in an estate plan may suspect that their loved one has been the victim of undue influence. Unfortunately, this form of abuse is a risk for the elderly, the ill, and individuals with diminished mental capacity. People in this state can be vulnerable.
Undue influence is when someone applies emotional, psychological, and/or physical coercion to control another person’s free will to gain a benefit that they would not otherwise be given. As pertains to estate issues, undue influence is usually used to allow the abuser to obtain more than their fair share from a will or family trust, or to increase their trust fund distributions. These actions take assets away from the intended heirs and subvert the intentions of the victim.
The person exerting undue influence uses a position of trust with the victim to manipulate them. Examples might include:
Those in a position to control a vulnerable person’s living situation or finances are those most likely to have the opportunity to exert undue influence over their estate planning.
Warning Signs of Undue Influence Certain changes in behavior can indicate undue influence, such as:
While a restated will or trust does not always indicate the presence of undue influence, even when terms are disputed among beneficiaries, undue influence should be suspected when suddenly changed provisions turn up in conjunction with these patterns of interaction.
If you believe that your loved one’s estate plan was altered as the result of undue influence, it is imperative to seek the advice of experienced probate and trust attorneys. Alternatively, if you have been unjustly accused of exercising undue influence over a family member or friend under your care, you may want to retain your own counsel. Allegations of undue influence can be difficult to prove in court. The assistance of a knowledgeable lawyer is critical for establishing the legal basis for undue influence.
When you need experienced legal counsel to help create an estate plan or to resolve an inheritance dispute, Velasco Law Group can help. We are committed to providing solid legal advice and assertive representation to protect your interests and resolve disputes as efficiently as possible. To find out more about our estate planning, administration, and litigation services or to schedule a free initial consultation, contact Velasco Law Group here.