Let us say that your Aunt Lucy, who resided in another state, passed away recently, but not before making a big change to her will.
She left a sizable bequest to a neighbor, thereby cutting out her daughter, who now plans to contest the will.
A helpful neighbor
Aunt Lucy was an elderly widow who had lived alone for many years. Her daughter Mazie, Lucy’s only close relative, lived a couple of hours away and did not see her mother often. The only person Lucy saw on a fairly regular basis was her neighbor Bart, a middle-aged widower. Bart was helpful to Lucy. He brought in groceries for her, trimmed her bushes, fixed leaky faucets, helped her pay bills and helped balance her checkbook. Bart, she often said, was like the son she never had.
Lucy owned a prime piece of property that she bequeathed to Bart in a last-minute change to her will. This was a shock to your cousin Mazie, who thought she would inherit the property. Since her daughter was rarely around, Lucy became dependent on Bart. Mazie thinks he is guilty of financial exploitation, using undue influence over his elderly neighbor to become an heir in her will.
Looking for signs
Financial exploitation is usually exercised by someone who is in a position of trust. Friends and relatives of a possible victim are encouraged to look for signs of vulnerability, such as poor health, cognitive impairment or, in the case of Aunt Lucy, social isolation.
Dealing with the issue
Undue influence can appear in any kind of estate planning document, but if it exists, it is commonly found in a will. No doubt Mazie is grappling with the sudden death of her mother, and she is also hurt to find that a man she did not know replaced her as the heir to valuable property. The next step will be to discover whether Bart was indeed guilty of financial exploitation and resolve the issue that has led to Mazie’s desire to contest the will.