Undue influence is a real phenomenon in New Jersey and nationwide. It involves the exertion of pressure — subtle or direct — over an elderly person, which is intended to take advantage of the person’s weakness, infirmity or other vulnerabilities, to improperly usurp the person’s free will and make him or her give part or all the estate to the one exerting the undue influence. This may include attempted manipulation of the estate planning process for improper financial gain.
This happens more often to elderly persons who are isolated or intensely lonely, sometimes due to the loss of a spouse. Some predators even scan the death notices and evaluate certain cases for intercession. Sometimes, the influencer may instead be a family member, a financial advisor or a casual friend who intensifies the relationship with the ulterior intention of overpowering the individual’s free will to obtain a position as a recipient of money or property, while the target is alive and as the main or sole beneficiary of the estate upon death.
The elderly person may be of unsound mind or legally incompetent to make decisions, but that is not always necessary to prove undue influence. Such exploitation is a form of elder abuse that takes an annual financial toll in the country of about $6.7 billion per year. Most of the cases of undue influence go unreported and uncontested. On occasion, a close family member may realize and investigate the nefarious plot, and then take court action to contest the estate or the trust for improper influence.
Legislation may exist to try and limit the scope of undue influence and to provide remedies against wrongdoers. It may also be necessary for state lawmakers to take another look at the problem and devise new measures to protect seniors who are vulnerable. There are also protective measures that can be incorporated into one’s estate planning process and documents in New Jersey. In addition, there are government agencies on aging and online services to which one can turn for assistance in preventing or resolving existing situations that are suspicious.
Source: insurancenewsnet.com, “A ‘New Friend’ May Signal A Big Problem“, March 13, 2018