A last will or estate plan should be a reflection of somebody’s relationships and wishes. It is common for individuals to leave inheritances for the people who depend on them and those with whom they feel closest throughout their lives.
Sadly, the legacy your loved one spent a lifetime earning could wind up diminished through the actions of another person motivated by greed. Unethical and manipulative people sometimes try to force someone to leave them more of their estate than they would on their own.
Undue influence is the legal term for someone exerting inappropriate pressure and coercing another adult to change their last will. If you have noticed any of the three warning signs of undue influence below, you may want to explore whether you need to bring a challenge against the last will in probate court.
- The estate plan is contrary to a lifetime of discussions and previous wills
Perhaps your mother refused to reduce her personal property by getting rid of furniture or antiques. She had always insisted that you and your siblings would split everything evenly and that her belongings were part of her bequest to you all.
However, after she passed, the last will left substantially more of the estate to one child, leaving the others with little. When a last will changed late in life undermines explicit directions and preferences stated over the course of a life, that’s a major warning sign. Terms that contradict someone’s stated intention and previous versions of the last will could be cause for concern.
- The person with the biggest share of the estate had the most access to the deceased
Undue influence usually requires that the person pressuring the testator have some degree of control or authority over their lives. In some cases, the person applying pressure will go to extremes, such as denying someone food or pain relief medication to demonstrate the authority that they have.
If your sibling assumed guardianship or served as a medical caregiver for your parents, only for them to then receive the vast majority of the estate in a late-in-life revision to the existing plan, that is a red flag that someone intentionally manipulated an aging adult for their own benefit.
- Your relationship with your loved one changed despite your efforts
When one individual wants to manipulate or control an aging adult, they often isolate them from their support network. If your phone calls or visits frequently got rejected, it’s possible that your loved one never even knew you reached out.
Caregivers trying to manipulate family dynamics for their own benefit sometimes fabricate conflicts to make the person they target feel more dependent and possibly angry enough to last out at other family members.
If you see any signs that a family member tried to manipulate or control your deceased loved one, bringing a claim of undue influence could convince the courts to toss out a questionable estate plan or use a previous version that better aligns with your loved one’s stated wishes.