Undue influence occurs when a dominant person replaces their will for the will of a dependent and vulnerable person for their own personal gain. Money is usually the motive behind this type of abuse. And most commonly this type of abuse occurs with the elderly and disabled. This is because the elderly and disabled are more susceptible and vulnerable than others. A lot of times they rely heavily on others for daily assistance and are more trusting in nature. The relationship is more than just persuasion, it is a psychological control and the relationship holds many similarities to domestic violence. One of the key factors in gaining this type of control is by isolating the weaker person.
Identifying this abuse can be difficult, below are several examples of how this abuse may appear.
- The victim takes actions that are contrary to his or her previous habits, values or beliefs. This could be signing documents, changing estate plans, and the like.
- Sudden changes occur to the victim’s financial management and portfolio (e.g. changing titles on accounts or property, cashing in insurance policies).
- Changing professionals without cause or warning when they have used the same professionals for years and always had a trusting relationship with those professionals (e.g. stock brokers, physicians, realtor, attorneys, bankers).
- The victim becomes systematically isolated from those who are involved in their care and activities.
- The victim suddenly moves under the guise of “better care,” or someone moves into the victim’s home without warning, cause, or permission of the family.
- The victim’s income checks are directed differently than under the usual arrangement.
- The victim places newfound trust in acquaintances in an area where there historically was mistrust in the family.
- There is a promise of “life-long care” in exchange for property.
- The statements of the victim and the abuser vary when concerning the financial affairs of the victim or their disposition of assets.
- The victim is never left alone with anyone. No one ever speaks to the victim without the abuser’s knowledge.
- Unusual patterns in the victim’s finances. (e.g. numerous checks are written to “cash” and in rounded sums)
- The victim reports meeting a wonderful new friend and then begins declining invitations to family events and becomes suspicious of their family members where no suspicion had previously existed.
- The victim is pressed into a transaction without having the opportunity to think about it or consult their trusted advisors.
The quickest way to combat undue influence is to gain legal control over the victim’s resources. This usually involves petitioning for conservatorship and/or guardianship through the probate court. Depending on the severity of the abuse, and the relationship between the victim and abuser, the victim may or may not be willing or helpful. It is important to collect as many facts and proof as you can in order to make your filings successful.
If you suspect someone you love has fallen victim of undue influence, contact our offices to speak with one of our experienced probate and elder law attorneys for a complimentary consultation. Platt & Westby, P.C. has been in business for over 40 years and has valley wide locations.