What Does Undue Influence Look Like?
Although it is true that the purpose of good estate planning is to avoid probate court, and to avoid challenges to your estate, things can happen that can lead to a challenge, even with the best laid plans.
Challenges to your estate plan in probate court can be very stressful, and a scenario that you do not want to leave for your loved ones. The idea of family fighting with each other, and debating what you wanted or intended, is not something you probably want to imagine in your head.
One area where even the best estate plan can end up challenged, is with what is known as undue influence.
What is Undue Influence?
Undue influence is where a family member, or someone who is left with less than what he or she expected in your estate plan, challenges your estate plan, saying that it is not the result of your desires or will, but rather, that you did it or created it or amended it, as a result of someone else influencing you.
This often happens when elderly people start to rely on others for help. They may be friends, or they may be professionals, like realtors, financial advisors, or others. They may even be distant relatives, who “show up” to help, just as the elderly person seems to be getting less capable to manage his or her own affairs.
As the elderly person gets older, and less able to manage his or her own affairs, he or she starts relying on the “helper,” for everyday tasks. The helper then starts managing the elderly person’s finances, and perhaps, suggesting alterations to documents in an estate plan, that have a direct or indirect benefit on the helper.
The elderly person, relying on the helper, makes modifications that aren’t in his or her best interest, and which may actually fully or partially disinherit close family members, all to benefit the supposed helper.
This is made worse if the elderly person is suffering from mental or physical disabilities. Certainly, with dementia, or just the symptoms of aging, someone may be particularly susceptible to being influenced by an outsider.
Before you know it, the helper stands to inherit more than what he or she ordinarily would have inherited—often, at the cost of other, closer family members, who are stunned to learn that this “outsider,” or distant relative, or professional, has gotten a disproportionately large portion of your inheritance.
Start Your Estate Plan Now
This is why if you intend on lowering the inheritance of someone close to you in your estate plan, you should anticipate a challenge in advance, and take steps to minimize the possibility of such a challenge. Starting your estate plan early when you are healthier, is one good step.
A good estate planning attorney can help you draft documents and create circumstances that make it clear to all that your chosen estate plan actually reflects your conscious, well-reasoned, and knowing wishes.
Call the Torrance will and estate attorneys at Samuel Ford Law today to help you create an estate plan that reflects your wishes.