What Is Undue Influence, and Do I Have A Case? (Published 01-2020)
Most will be familiar with names of at least one of these famous people: Groucho Marx, (movie actor, comedian) Pauly Shore (movie actor, comedian) and Stan Lee (founder of Marvel Comics and creator of Spider Man.) They all have at least one thing in common. They have all been part of legal proceedings involving a claim of undue influence.
Let’s look at what undue influence is and how it can impact us and our loved ones.
When it comes to our personal estates, most of us know our own minds on the matter and plan our estates accordingly. We plan carefully to provide for our families, after we are gone, and to establish our legacies. But even careful estate planning may not be able to prevent undue influence.
What is Undue Influence?
Undue influence refers to a person who exerts influence over another person’s estate in a manner that takes advantage of the person’s close personal relationship. A person exerting undue influence will typically attempt to separate the victim from family and to foster in him or her a sense of dependency on the influencer.
As people age, they can become more vulnerable to influence because they often need outside assistance. Gradually, the victim may come to see the influencer as his or her only support system and may choose to leave all – or a hefty portion of – his or her estate to that influencer.
How Is Undue Influence Exerted?
While there are endless ways that undue influence can occur over a loved one, some courts have said, “I know it when I see it”. Still, there are very common circumstances where the most vulnerable are subject to undue influence.
In other words, anyone who significantly relies on help from others on a regular basis is more vulnerable to undue influence; but even a healthy individual can succumb to a skilled manipulator.
- People with disabilities
- The elderly
- People who are physically or mentally frail or sick
- People suffering from dementia
Virtually anyone can exert undue influence over a person’s estate plan. Some common culprits include close relatives, a member of the extended family, a friend or a caregiver.
What are the remedies for Undue Influence?
This is never an easy situation. But for people who suspect that undue influence has taken place, there are remedies. For example, a will contest could be started. If the victim is still alive, a court ordered guardianship may serve as the proper remedy.
Skilled estate planning attorneys can handle this type of complex legal issue and should be consulted when undue influence is suspected.
Matthew V. Piwowar is a Grand Rapids estate planning attorney. Mr. Piwowar is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, and the State Bar Probate & Estate Planning Section, the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys, and the Michigan Forum of Estate Planners.
Go to Newsletter Archive Go to Estate Planning Articles