What is undue influence? Many people have heard this term before, but are not quite sure how to define it. Basically, undue influence is when a person uses their position of power to take advantage of another person during the formulation of a contract. More often than not, this affects contracts like wills or estate plans. Unfortunately, the victim of this manipulation is commonly an elderly person or a child who is easily influenced. Anyone who is considered vulnerable during the creation of the contract could fall prey to undue influence. Unfortunately, undue influence can be difficult to prove in many cases because these relationships are usually personal. Dependents, sick, or elderly individuals may have a hard time expressing their views on the matter. Family members and close relatives are often left to put the pieces together themselves. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the signs of undue influence. Here are some common cases that could help you decide if you or someone you know is a victim of manipulation.
Undue Influence in Cases of Isolation
When a sick or elderly relative needs more constant care, this can be difficult for family members. They may not have the time or resources to provide the kind of help this person needs. A neighbor, friend, or nurse might be able to provide assistance. They can appear to be helpful at first, but oftentimes this person can create a world of isolation for the will-maker. The caregiver might decide to cut this person off from other friends or relatives. They might try to control all of their forms of communication like mail, phone calls, or visits. The primary caretaker can easily manipulate the will-maker if there is no one else around stop it. If the will-maker is suffering from any sort of dementia or mental health challenges, this could be even more troubling. It’s important to stay connected to the loved one. Make sure that their extended social circles are always able to communicate with them.
Close Family Members Left Out
Another common sign of undue influence is when immediate or close family members are left out of the will. These are people who are expected to be included but are left out with no explanation. Normally, these are children, spouses, siblings, or parents. Of course, there are a lot of explanations for immediate family members to not be included. For instance, if they are financially secure or have high paying careers, it’s common for their share to be given to others or to a charity. However, there is a reason to be concerned if there is little or no explanation for the exclusion. This is especially true if there was a high expectation of the close family member being included. Regardless of where the portion of the estate is going, it’s important to investigate of the immediate family is inexplicably left out.
One Individual Benefits the Most
If a will benefits one individual at the expense of others, it could be a case of undue influence. Again, signs of vulnerability, like a mental health issue, could make the will-maker a target. Anyone coming into contact with them can take advantage of this situation. This could be anyone from a neighbor to someone who delivers their food. If there’s an abnormally large amount of the estate going to one person, there may be room for suspicion. Relatives should be especially skeptical of this person if they are unfamiliar to the rest of the family.
A Sudden Request to Change the Contract
Another sign of undue influence is if the will-maker suddenly decides to make a change the contract. If this change is inexplicable and unforeseen, it could be considered a warning sign. It’s important to ask who they’ve come into contact with and if the change might benefit this person. Of course, an attorney should also see this as a warning sign as well. It’s important to know why the contract is being altered and who initiated this idea. Any change that appears to be unexpected should be examined.
What to Do if You See Signs of Undue Influence
If you think someone you love could be the victim of undue influence, it’s imperative that you contact a legal expert to help you investigate. If any of these signs sound familiar, you may be in a position to take legal action. It’s important to protect vulnerable people from those who wish to take advantage of them. Always make sure that your loved one is not isolated from friends and family. Make sure you’re regularly communicating with them and you’re aware of the people in their lives. Remember to only work with caregivers that you know and trust. Be aware of any sudden changes in wills or estate plans. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to call for assistance if you suspect undue influence.