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Home » Estate Planning » Recognizing signs of undue influence in an estate plan

With an estate plan, you can determine who receives your wealth and property, bypassing intestacy laws that may dictate the distribution otherwise. It provides peace of mind, control and protection for you and your loved ones. However, there are situations where the estate plan may not accurately reflect the true wishes of the person creating it. Undue influence, a form of manipulation or coercion, can undermine the integrity of an estate plan and compromise the true intentions of the individual.

Consider the most common signs that indicate a loved one may have faced undue influence when completing their estate plan.

Sudden and unexplained changes

If your loved one’s estate plan underwent significant modifications shortly before their death or during a vulnerable period, it may raise suspicions. Such changes could include alterations to beneficiaries, distribution of assets or appointing new fiduciaries without a clear rationale. The abrupt nature of these changes, especially when inconsistent with the person’s longstanding intentions, may indicate the influence of an outside party.

Isolation and restricted communication

If you notice that a loved one has become increasingly isolated from friends, family or other trusted individuals, it may provide an opportunity for an influencer to exert control. Pay attention to any signs of isolation, such as limited access to visitors, phone calls or personal correspondence. This restriction of communication can enable the manipulator to exert undue influence over the individual’s decision-making process, including their estate plan.

Dependency on a dominant individual

Another red flag is the increasing dependency and reliance on a dominant individual who may be exerting undue influence. This person could be a caregiver, close friend or family member who has gained significant control over the individual’s affairs. If your loved one displays signs of deference, fear or excessive reliance on this individual, it may suggest a power dynamic that raises concerns about the integrity of their estate plan. The influencer may manipulate the individual’s vulnerabilities to steer the estate plan toward their own interests.

Inconsistencies with prior values and relationships

If the proposed distribution of assets or the exclusion of beneficiaries contradicts the person’s long-held values, established relationships or documented intentions, it could signal the presence of undue influence. It is crucial to assess whether the changes align with the individual’s personal history and consider whether any discrepancies indicate an external influence shaping the estate plan.

By remaining vigilant and attentive to these signs, you can help preserve the integrity of your loved one’s estate plan and uphold their true wishes.