Losing a parent is painful, even if you were not on the best terms with them or were not as close as you might have liked. And the situation can become even more upsetting if you or someone else in your family suspects your parent was the victim of undue influence before their death.
What is undue influence?
Backing up, we should explain that undue influence refers to coercing or manipulating a person into acting in the influencer’s best interests rather than their own.
In the context of estate planning, it typically involves someone coercing the testator (the person making a will) into leaving assets or transferring money and property to the influencer. These actions may be financially harmful to the testator or directly contradict their original wishes.
What you should look for
If you or someone else worries that someone exerted undue influence over your parent, there may be some signs present. Look for indications such as:
- The influencer isolated your parent
- Your parent had unpaid bills, poor medical care or substandard living conditions, despite having adequate finances
- Your parent exhibited little or no awareness of financial transactions prior to their death
- Your parent left surprising, unusual gifts to the influencer
- Your parent was increasingly or entirely dependent on the influencer
- There are other signs of abuse or neglect
These could indicate that a person manipulated, tricked or coerced your parent into making decisions that aligned with the best interests of the influencer rather than themselves.
What you can do
If you suspect undue influence of your parent, you might seek legal guidance to explore your legal options. Holding a party accountable for this mistreatment and having the courts set aside an estate planning document that does not reflect your parent’s wishes can be crucial.
Estate litigation involving undue influence claims may not undo the damage or assuage feelings of sadness or guilt, but it can punish wrongdoing and preserve your parent’s legacy.