It is an unfortunate fact that there are people who take advantage of elderly people, especially the elderly experiencing dementia and loneliness. Too often, this includes coercing or tricking an elderly person into creating a will that goes against his or her wishes or best interests.
In these situations, this can be an example of undue influence, and you may have grounds to contest his or her will.
Signs of undue influence
Undue influence can invalidate a will, which is an action courts do not take lightly. As such, there must be evidence that a person (the influencer) coerced the testator into making a will that does not reflect his or her actual wishes.
The following are some signs that a party could be the victim of undue influence:
- A person's increased and unusual reliance on the influencer
- Increased isolation of the person, often facilitated by the influencer
- Sudden changes in a person's financial accounts or accessibility
- Unusual financial transactions or activity that a person does not remember or will not explain
- Loans to unusual parties for questionable or unwise purposes
- Decisions by the influencer for the party that indicate a conflict of interests
- A party's frequent, unexplained relocation precipitated by the influencer (often an attempt to distance him or her from family)
- A party naming someone other than a family member or trusted confidant as a fiduciary
- Changes made to a will or estate plan when a person is/was experiencing periods of confusion, memory loss or dementia
In cases where these or similar actions have occurred, there may be grounds to challenge a person's will to have the courts set it aside. Accomplishing this can ensure a loved one's legacy does not reflect the influencer's interests instead.
Underhanded doesn't always mean unlawful
Keep in mind that these efforts are often less obvious than you might expect. Further, understand that just because a decision is surprising or unusual does not mean it is the result of undue influence.
Because undue influence may not always be obvious, it can be difficult to identify for legal purposes. As such, discussing your concerns and options with a lawyer if you have suspicions of undue influence will be wise.