Undue influence is about power tripping, where a person in an advantageous position can manipulate a vulnerable victim. In the probate courts, many undue influence cases involve contention over wills and trusts, petition for guardianship, and conservatorship. It is also present in domestic violence, hostage situations, white-collar crimes, scams, and cults. All these situations jeopardize the financial state of the victim.
What is unfortunate is that undue influence generally happens behind a closed door. There is no witness because the perpetrator makes sure that they and the victim are alone. The most common culprits are family members, caregivers, and other interested parties like telemarketers. However, there are ways to spot undue influence and save your loved one from being manipulated.
- massive cash withdrawal, fund transfer, or purchase of expensive items that reflect in the bank account
- newly signed documents that show a slightly different signature of the person
- an unrelated individual who is acting on behalf of your loved one
- your loved one is being kept in isolation from family and friends
- suddenly the elderly person looks disheveled and unkempt
Undue influence usually thrives behind the shadows. As a family, you should all know what is going on with the elderly that needs caregiving, including his financial situation. Whether you decide to keep him in a health facility or at home, being transparent about the decisions would prevent someone from exerting undue influence.
It’s best to keep all the receipts of all the expenses and written documentation of issued checks. If you see substantial cash withdrawals, fund transfers, or purchases of items that they do not usually buy, it would be easy to find out who manipulated your loved one. It can be someone close to him, like a caregiver or a family member is, pulling some tricks to make him do it.
If you are the primary caregiver or a sibling, it helps to have a written agreement to avoid family conflict in the future. It may come in handy when your parents or siblings pool money for health care. Also, if your loved one decides to leave a large chunk of his properties to you, the other family members may accuse you of exerting undue influence. It will become a messy issue if one of the family members is left out of the will.
When your parent needs to discuss plans for his assets with his estate executor or family lawyer, set up the appointment but don’t sit with them. It can make others suspicious and sue you. Telling everyone about the plan is the best option and ensuring that no one is pressuring your parents.
Whether it is you or any of your siblings, say no to the suggestion of your loved one to open a joint account so it will be easy to do transactions on his behalf. The law presumes that when the principal owner dies, the surviving owner owns it 100% and cannot be compelled to share the balance with the family. This can lead to a lawsuit in the future if a family member accuses you of influencing your parents.
If your loved one wants to give you cash or a valuable item like a piece of jewelry, it is best to document it. Ask your parent to make a written statement about why they give it to you and let them sign it. A third party (non-family member) can be a great witness to why they give the gift. This would prevent a lot of explaining when a family member accuses you of manipulating your parents to give it to you or, worse, stealing it.
If you suspect that someone is unduly influencing your loved one who is elderly or under a health care program due to degenerative diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s, seeking the help of a lawyer is a top priority. It’s also your best option if your family suspects you of manipulation that leads to excluding someone out of the will. An experienced attorney in probate litigation can help you on whichever case.
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