Estate planning can be a challenging and deeply personal process. You certainly have ideas about how you would like to divide your estate, but you may also look to others for advice. Many people have personal experiences dealing with a relative’s estate plan, and they may be able to offer suggestions for how to avoid conflict or confusion among your loved ones during probate.
In some cases, however, certain individuals may be too eager to offer advice about what you should do with your assets. It may sound shocking, but many have learned too late that someone they trusted used undue influence to convince them to change their estate plans for the influencer’s benefit.
What is undue influence?
Undue influence is a form of elder abuse that often occurs when an elderly person is declining in physical or mental health and may have significant assets or income. By controlling the way you think, the other person may gain control of your finances, valuables or estate planning outcomes. This may be a family member, health care provider, a neighbor or even someone to whom you have granted fiduciaries duties. Here are some signs that may indicate someone is victimizing you with undue influence:
- They will isolate you from others, including your own family.
- They will speak for you instead of allowing you to answer questions.
- You will come to depend on them for food, medication or other important things.
- They will convince you no one else cares about you.
- You may feel powerless, afraid and unsure of what is true and what is false.
- They will stay with you all the time, perhaps even moving into your home.
- You will suddenly go to doctors, attorneys or other professionals that are different from the ones you previously visited.
- Your finances may be routed through a different bank.
- The other person will convince you to add their name on your bank account, investments, property titles, credit cards and others.
- The other person will try to talk you into changing your estate plan to include them and exclude others.
Not everyone who offers to assist you with your finances or makes suggestions about your plans is trying to unduly influence you, but if you suspect you are a victim, you would be wise to act quickly. It may be difficult to know whom to trust, and you may even feel some loyalty to the person trying to influence you. However, chances are others have noticed these signs, too, and they want to help you. Accepting that help may be the first step to breaking free of undue influence.