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Is there a definition for undue influence?

Undue influence can be something of a tricky subject in estate disputes because there is no specific definition. Also, it can look a bit different from one case to the next. But undue influence is the process of inducing an elderly person to change their will or estate plan. But what does it look like?

It usually involves manipulation. It can exploit an elderly person's:

  • Dependency
  • Vulnerabilities
  • Fears
  • Trust

In many cases, it starts with vulnerability. The elderly person has some vulnerability that the other person thinks they can exploit.

Perhaps that elderly person has dementia, for instance, and has trouble remembering what happened. A caregiver could begin lying to the person, painting a picture of uncaring heirs who never visit and do not love them. This could also play against the elderly person's fears of being alone, using their trust in the caregiver upon whom they are dependent.

Eventually, the caregiver's goal is to make the elderly person feel closer to them than to their actual family. They can then nudge the elderly person in the direction of updating their estate plan to take money away from their heirs and give it to the caregiver. Because the elderly person thinks they are doing this of their own free will, they write the changes into their estate plan so that it appears legal. But the reality is that they have been manipulated by the caregiver to make changes that they never would have made otherwise.

When heirs believe that this has taken place, it can lead to estate disputes. They need to understand all of their legal rights in order to win their case.

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