Undue influence refers to the act of one person inducing another to act in a way in which the victim would not have acted had he or she been acting of his or her own free will. Typically, the victim does not fully understand the consequences of his or her actions. Sadly, undue influence over disabled and elderly individuals is a pervasive problem in Illinois and throughout the U.S., especially as an aging person prepares to transition large sums of wealth via an estate plan. You can help protect your elderly loved one, yourself and other beneficiaries by recognizing the signs of undue influence.
Elder Protection Center outlines 12 signs of undue influence, some of which are more obvious than others. One common sign of this type of activity is the existence of estate-planning documents that name non-family members as beneficiaries or fiduciaries. Another sign includes actions by your loved one's fiduciary that reflect poor judgment or pose a conflict of interest.
If your loved one's estate plan gifts property or money to persons who are not natural objects of his or her affections (think service providers, caregivers and neighbors), be wary. If the elderly individual gifts overly-generous gifts that threaten his or her economic security, look into the matter more closely.
If your loved one loans any sum of money to non-family members and does not have documentation of the loan, address the matter more seriously. A loan with unreasonable terms is particularly worrisome. Also show concern if your loved one opens a joint account with a non-family member or signs checks that others prepare.
Another sign of undue influence is bequest plans that favor one child, especially if the child currently lives with the elderly individual. If you notice that an adult child is excessively dependent upon your loved one, it may be a sign of undue influence. This is especially true if the adult child is critical of the elderly individual's independence.
If you notice that a professional such as a trustee, financial advisor or attorney charges your loved one excessive fees, it may be a red flag. The same holds true if a material inconsistency exists between your loved one's understanding of his or her estate and its true value.
This article is meant to be strictly informative. It is in no way intended to serve as legal advice.