Someone’s estate plans are supposed to reflect (among other things) their heartfelt desires for what should happen to their assets when they are gone. That’s why testators are expected to be of sound mind when they make their wills, establish a trust or set other plans in place.
What happens, though, if someone else inserts their wishes into the picture and manages to coerce, threaten or trick the testator into making changes to their plans that they don’t really want? This is called “undue influence,” and it can lead to challenges in court and litigation over the estate.
Knowing how this occurs can help you spot a problem – and that means understanding who is best in a position to exert undue influence over a testator. Here are some possibilities:
A loyal home health aide can make it possible for a senior to spend their final days at home, but some can also smell opportunity and be manipulative, especially towards a well-heeled client. They can play on a senior’s sympathies to get written into their will, or they may threaten to abandon the senior to their own devices and stop coming unless they’re given a generous bequest.
A close relative who lives with the testator
The people most directly involved in someone’s day-to-day life can exert a lot of control over a senior who is increasingly confused and/or dependent upon them for care. Sometimes adult children or other relatives purposefully position themselves as a dying ‘“caregiver” so that they can try to convince or trick the testator into disinheriting others or (at least) heavily favoring them in their estate plans.
A new spouse
It’s natural for a testator to want to provide for their spouse after they’re gone – but when that happens to the exclusion of their own children, it’s likely to provoke a dispute. A new spouse (who is also often a caregiver) may wrongfully interfere with the testator’s relationship with their own children and push for a change in the testator’s will once conflict starts.
Don’t allow your loved one’s true wishes for their estate to be thwarted so easily. If you suspect that undue influence played a part in your loved one’s final estate plans, it’s wisest to act quickly and learn more about your legal options.