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3 parties who could potentially exert undue influence on a will

On Behalf of | Apr 23, 2024 | Estate Administration & Probate |

When someone dies, their will helps determine what happens to their property. Family members usually trust a will to accurately describe someone’s wishes. The personal representative of the estate follows the instructions in the will when distributing property, and the probate courts could hold them accountable if they fail to do so.

However, sometimes people have questions about the legitimacy of estate planning paperwork. Perhaps an estate plan has terms that clearly violate the law. That could be grounds to contest the will. Other times, the decedent may have always expressed a specific plan for their personal legacy. If the documents that they leave behind when they die provide vastly different instructions, then family members may question what prompted those changes.

The undue influence of an outside party could lead to a vulnerable older adult modifying an estate plan. Who is theoretically in the strongest position to exert undue influence on an older adult?

A spouse

Spouses are often prominent figures in an individual’s estate plan. A spouse may receive most or all of someone’s property and may have a position of authority during estate administration. Particularly in scenarios where someone remarried later in life and their spouse serves as a caregiver, they may have exerted undue influence on the testator to obtain a larger portion of their estate.

Children providing regular support

Sometimes, an individual’s spouse is not the person who handles their daily needs when their health declines. Instead, one of their children might step into that role. Adult children can be abusive and manipulative toward their parents. They could also unfairly influence the relationship that the parent has with their other children. They could intercept communications or otherwise attempt to undermine the relationship the parent has with other family members.

Professional caregivers

Those who work providing support for older adults can misuse their authority. They might try to insinuate themselves into someone’s personal life, taking on the role of a close friend and confidant. They might fabricate or exaggerate tragic stories to make it seem as though they have had an unfair life. They are in a position to use their authority to make someone feel unsafe or vulnerable.

Anyone who has control over someone’s comfort and daily life could potentially use their relationship with that vulnerable adult to inappropriately influence their estate plan. Older adults who depend on caregivers could become victims of undue influence. Recognizing the warning signs of undue influence can help families recognize when probate litigation might be necessary. The choice to file a probate lawsuit could lead to the courts reinstating an older estate plan or setting aside a compromised one.