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Addressing Undue Influence in Estate Planning

Addressing Undue Influence in Estate Planning

Addressing Undue Influence in Estate Planning

Imagine a scenario where an elderly widower, John, has recently updated his will, leaving the majority of his estate to his caregiver, Sarah, instead of his estranged children. The children, suspicious of Sarah’s motives, have filed a will contest, alleging that their father was under the undue influence of his caregiver when he made the changes to his estate plan.

With the guidance of an estate planning attorney, you can have the confidence that your loved one’s estate plan reflects their true intentions, not the coercion or manipulation of others. The attorney can work closely with your loved one to identify and address any red flags, ensuring their wishes are honored and their family relationships are preserved. Don’t let undue influence jeopardize the legacy your loved one has worked so hard to build. Partner with an experienced estate planning attorney who can provide the expertise and support needed to navigate these challenges and secure your family’s future.

Understanding Undue InfluenceAddressing Undue Influence in Estate Planning

Undue influence refers to a situation where an individual exerts excessive or inappropriate pressure on another person, often a vulnerable or elderly individual, to make decisions or take actions that may not align with their true wishes or best interests. This can be particularly problematic in the context of estate planning, where undue influence can lead to changes in a will, trust, or other important documents that do not reflect the true intentions of the individual.

Factors that can contribute to undue influence include a power imbalance, isolation of the vulnerable individual, and the manipulative or coercive behavior of the influencer. When undue influence is successfully alleged, it can result in the invalidation of the estate plan, family conflicts, and significant legal and financial consequences for all parties involved.

Identifying Undue Influence

Elderly Parent and Caregiver Relationship

The DRAMATIZATION that follows is not an actual event: When Emily’s elderly father, Robert, updated his will to leave the majority of his estate to his live-in caregiver, Sarah, Emily became suspicious. She noticed that her father had become increasingly isolated from the family, and that Sarah had taken control of his finances and medical decisions. Emily also observed that Robert’s mental faculties appeared to be declining, yet Sarah insisted that he was of sound mind. Concerned that her father may have been under the undue influence of his caregiver, Emily consulted an estate planning attorney to challenge the will and protect her father’s true wishes.

Potential signs that a person may be unduly influenced in the preparation of their estate plan include sudden changes in the distribution of assets, the exclusion of long-standing beneficiaries, or an unusual level of involvement or control by a single individual in the estate planning process.

Blended Family Dynamics

The DRAMATIZATION that follows is not an actual event: When Martha’s husband, James, passed away, she was shocked to learn that he had updated his estate plan, leaving a significant portion of his assets to his daughter from a previous marriage. Martha, who had been married to James for over 20 years and had always assumed she would inherit the majority of his estate, suspected that James’s daughter, Emma, had exerted undue influence over her father, particularly in the final years of his life when his health was declining. Seeking to protect her financial future and honor her late husband’s original intentions, Martha decided to challenge the estate plan with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Vulnerable Individual and Opportunistic Individual

The DRAMATIZATION that follows is not an actual event: John, an elderly man with early-stage dementia, had recently updated his will to leave his entire estate to his long-time neighbor, Sarah. John’s family, who had been caring for him and managing his affairs, were concerned that Sarah had taken advantage of John’s vulnerability and cognitive decline to unduly influence him. They consulted an estate planning attorney to investigate the matter and potentially challenge the will, as they believed John’s true wishes were to leave his assets to his children and grandchildren, not his neighbor.

The Role of an Estate Planning Attorney

Addressing allegations of undue influence in estate planning can be a complex and delicate process, but working with an experienced estate planning attorney can be invaluable in protecting your clients’ interests and preserving the integrity of their estate plans.

An estate planning attorney can assist in several key ways:

  • Identifying potential signs of undue influence during the estate planning process and implementing safeguards to minimize the risk
  • Reviewing existing estate plans and documents for any indications of undue influence, such as sudden changes or the involvement of a suspicious third party
  • Representing clients in will contests, trust disputes, and other legal challenges related to undue influence allegations
  • Advocating for the client’s best interests and ensuring that their true wishes are honored, even in the face of undue influence claims

By working closely with an estate planning attorney, you can help your clients protect their assets, preserve their legacies, and avoid the emotional and financial toll of undue influence disputes.

Conclusion

Undue influence allegations can be a significant challenge in the world of estate planning, with the potential to disrupt the orderly distribution of assets, strain family relationships, and undermine the integrity of carefully crafted estate plans. However, by working with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can take proactive steps to identify, address, and prevent undue influence, ensuring that your clients’ wishes are honored and their legacies protected.

FAQsAddressing Undue Influence in Estate Planning

1. What is undue influence in estate planning?

Undue influence refers to a situation where an individual exerts excessive or inappropriate pressure on another person, often a vulnerable or elderly individual, to make decisions or take actions that may not align with their true wishes or best interests. This can lead to changes in a will, trust, or other estate planning documents that do not reflect the individual’s true intentions.

2. How can I identify signs of undue influence?

Some common signs of undue influence include sudden changes to the estate plan, the isolation of the vulnerable individual, a power imbalance between the individual and the suspected influencer, and the manipulative or coercive behavior of the influencer. It’s important to be vigilant and consult an estate planning attorney if you suspect undue influence is at play.

3. What is the role of an estate planning attorney in addressing undue influence?

An experienced estate planning attorney can play a crucial role in identifying, addressing, and preventing undue influence allegations. They can implement safeguards during the estate planning process, review existing documents for signs of undue influence, and represent clients in legal challenges related to undue influence. Working with an estate planning attorney can help protect your clients’ assets and legacies.

Don’t let undue influence allegations jeopardize your family’s estate plan. Contact our team of experienced estate planning attorneys at Summerfield Law today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help you safeguard your family’s assets and legacies.

Call Summerfield Law at our Riverview Office at (813) 850-0025 or our Wesley Chapel office at (352) 514-6865.

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