The English court found that she had used undue influence on him to get him to change his will.Centuries have passed but the same problem exists today. People use their relationship with someone to get them to give money or property to the influencer. We hear about it all the time at AgingParents.com where we work with families helping them deal with issues about aging loved ones. The struggle in families about control over an aging parent’s finances often comes about because someone thinks another family member is using undue influence over a vulnerable elder. And sometimes it’s true!Laws about undue influence vary from state to state. Where I live in CA, we have a really good definition that helps people prove when someone was under undue influence of another person. Keeping it simple and non-legal sounding this is the essence of the definition: Undue influence is excessive persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming that person’s free will and results in something that isn’t in the influenced person’s best interests. A person who is elderly, frail, dependent on others for care or who is undergoing a lot of stress is particularly vulnerable.
The influencer is usually in a position of trust, like a family member or a position of authority over the one being influenced. The person in authority could be a professional, such as a financial advisor or lawyer, or it could be a caregiver.
What are some of the classic warning signs of undue influence?
Here are five of them:
1. The victim is vulnerable, such as shortly after a spouse has died or because he or she has dementia and can’t make good decisions. But a person can be vulnerable just because of being lonely too.
2. The influencer assumes power, authority or control over the one being influenced. This could come from the relationship, where the one being influenced thinks the influencer can be trusted and doesn’t question them.
3. Isolation of the senior, and doing things in secret, in a hurry or because the influencer tells the victim that everyone else is against her.
4. Sudden changes in a long-standing estate plan, including a will and or trust. The so-called “natural heirs” or family are cut out of what they were going to inherit and it goes to someone outside the family as a result of the senior being influenced to make those changes.
5. Something happens that is not fair or reasonable for the victim. For example, another seizes control over their assets and they can no longer choose what to do with them. Or the elder’s home is sold and he is forced to go to a nursing home against his will. These are examples of harm or an unfair result to the victim.
Undue influence is legally related to financial abuse. Harm to the elder in some way is the result and it always involves money, property or an agreement that affects the elder’s welfare.
We hope you have a good idea now of undue influence. If you see any of the warning signs happening to someone in your life, to a client, family member or friend, speak up!
Seek legal advice from an elder law attorney or report the harm you see to Adult Protective Services.
Working together, we can all do something to stop elder abuse.
Carolyn Rosenblatt, R.N, Elder Law Attorney & Dr. Mikol Davis, Psychologist, Gerontologist