Someone who takes the time to put together an estate plan typically has people they want to protect and/or a specific personal legacy in mind. Their documents should be a reflection of their personal preferences, not the wishes of other people in their life.
Unfortunately, sometimes outside parties will try to influence an individual’s estate planning process with the intention of benefiting personally from someone else’s estate. Individuals may attempt to exert undue influence on a testator by manipulating, coercing or tricking them into changing their personal wishes for their estate plan. Undue influence could potentially be exercised by either someone close to the testator or a professional who has been tasked with their care.
What does undue influence involve?
Undue influence can take on many different forms in different circumstances. For example, it could be a child or a spouse who tries to convince someone to change their estate plan for personal benefit. They might attempt to manipulate the older adult by undermining their relationship with other family members and convincing them that no one else cares about them anymore. They might withhold crucial support or even pain medication from an older adult until they receive certain concessions.
That influence can also come from a professional, including staff at nursing homes or a support worker who visits an individual at their home regularly. Undue influence from a caregiver might involve manipulation related to access to support and medical treatment. It might also involve developing a false relationship and creating a complicated backstory that makes the care worker seem sympathetic. The intention is not truly friendship but rather a desire for some of that older adult’s property.
In any scenario where the terms of an estate plan seem to benefit a caregiver or one specific family member and deviate from the wishes someone previously expressed, there may be reason to worry that undue influence may have played a role in the estate planning process. Family members and expected beneficiaries may be able to initiate probate litigation when they have reasonable suspicion of undue influence affecting someone’s testamentary documents. Ultimately, learning more about the circumstances that may lead to probate litigation can help people establish whether they are in a position to take legal action.