An estate plan should be a record of what someone wants to do with their property and what support they wish to provide for their dependents when they die or suffer some kind of incapacitating medical event. Unfortunately, some estate plans end up reflecting the wishes of an outside party rather than the testator.
Undue influence can lead to probate challenges as family members try to figure out what someone truly intended and defend their inheritance rights. Who would potentially be able to exert undue influence on someone’s estate plan?
A new spouse
When there is tension between a younger stepparent and their stepchildren during estate administration, often there are concerns about undue influence. For example, stepchildren may claim that the stepparent manipulated the testator by influencing their relationship with their children and other family members negatively.
A child who moves back home
When someone’s health begins declining, they may reach out to their family to ask for support on a day-to-day basis. Children who serve as caregivers for their ailing parents could either interfere in the relationship that their parent has with us their siblings or otherwise manipulate their parent into altering the estate plan for their personal benefit.
A professional caregiver
Although it flies in the face of professional ethics, there are some paid caregivers who will intentionally manipulate the patients in their care. They might try to develop a close friendship with an older adult to manipulate them, or they might fabricate or exaggerate tragic personal stories to gain sympathy and inspire someone to alter their estate plan for their benefit.
Anyone who might control the daily lived experience of an older adult is potentially in a position to exert undue influence on their estate plan. Recognizing the warning signs of undue influence can help families and likely beneficiaries stand up for their rights and the intentions of the testator by pursuing probate litigation.