Estate planning is a process that ensures the orderly distribution of one’s assets after their passing. Undue influence occurs when an individual exerts improper pressure on the testator, otherwise known as the person creating the will, to make decisions that do not align with their true intentions.
Identifying signs of serious undue influence is important for protecting the integrity of estate planning.
Isolation from trusted advisors
One telltale sign of undue influence is when the testator becomes increasingly isolated from close friends and family members who have traditionally played important advisory roles. In fact, 1 in 4 Americans who are age 65 or older face social isolation.
If someone suddenly severs ties with those who have been their pillars of support and guidance, it could indicate that an influencer is trying to manipulate their decision-making process.
Rapid changes in documents
A sudden alteration in a testator’s estate planning documents, such as their will or trust, should raise a red flag. Rapid changes, especially when they seem contradictory to the individual’s long-standing wishes, may suggest that someone is pressuring the testator into making decisions they would not have otherwise made.
Unusual beneficiary designations
When the beneficiaries listed in a will or trust are unexpectedly altered to favor an individual who was not previously in the testator’s good graces, it may signify undue influence. This sudden shift in favor could be a result of manipulation or coercion by someone with a vested interest in the estate.
Emotional manipulation and control
Undue influencers often employ emotional tactics to gain control over the testator’s decisions. They may prey on feelings of guilt, fear or dependency, making the testator feel obligated to go along with their wishes.
Testator’s mental state
Assessing the mental state of the testator is important. If they are in a compromised mental condition due to illness, medication or cognitive decline, they may be more susceptible to undue influence.
Discrepancies in the testator’s accounts or financial records, especially related to large sums of money or assets, can indicate foul play. These irregularities may suggest that an undue influencer is mismanaging the testator’s assets for their own gain.
Disregard for legal formalities
Another alarming sign of undue influence is the disregard for legal formalities in estate planning. This may involve rushing through the signing of documents without proper legal oversight or the presence of witnesses.
Not all signs of undue influence may seem obvious right away. Vigilance and a genuine concern for the testator’s well-being can help prevent the undue influence that may threaten the fairness and legality of estate planning decisions.