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Undue influence: What is it and what are the signs?

Undue influence occurs when someone in a trusted position works to manipulate a vulnerable for the purpose of inheriting most or all that person’s assets upon his or her death.

The most common perpetrators of undue influence include stepparents, children of elderly parents, caregivers, service providers and family friends.

Indications of manipulation

Bad actors may use many different forms of manipulation to influence victims. When analyzing claims, courts consider the following questions:

  • Is the victim physically or mentally diminished or incapacitated?
  • Is the victim dependent on the abuser?
  • Does the abuser isolate the victim from family and friends?
  • Is the accused accessing and using the victim’s money or assets?
  • Are there signs of psychological abuse or intimidation?
  • Are there signs of physical violence or threats of violence?

Elements of proof

If you believe someone has manipulated your loved one for personal gain, you need proof of the following elements.

Victim’s vulnerability: age, education, illness, disability or level of functioning during interactions.

Influencer’s authority: family member, fiduciary, care provider, legal or financial advisor, spiritual leader, etc.

Influencer’s actions or tactics: controlling medications, sleep and communications or trying to affect changes to legal documents in inappropriate settings.

Equity of results: economic consequences, divergence from victim’s previous intentions, unfitting valuations of services provided or inequitable distribution based on nature and length of the relationship.

It is important to note that evidence of an inequitable result without other elements is not enough to prove undue influence.

Concerns surrounding undue influence are common in will disputes and estate conflicts. If you have vulnerable loved ones, you will want to protect them from dangerous predators.