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Avoiding the legal perils of leaving money to caregivers

Many people who are old and/or sick rely on non-family caregivers in the later years of their lives. Not surprisingly, they often want to remember these people in their will.

However, if other family members weren't aware of what a special bond their loved one had with a caregiver and weren't kept up-to-date on the provisions of that loved one's will, they might reasonably believe that the beneficiary exerted undue influence to get the will changed. They might even suspect that their family member's signature was forged or coerced.

Sometimes, caretakers of people with cognitive impairment are guilty of coercion or fraud to get a large inheritance. That's addressed in the California Probate Code under Section 21380. It presumes that inheritances left to people in those positions are the result of undue influence or fraud. The code also extends those presumptions to others -- including romantic partners and people living with the deceased near the end of his or her life.

If the will is contested, those people who had the opportunity to exert undue influence on a person or take advantage of his or her mental or physical vulnerabilities to extract an inheritance that wasn't intended have the burden of proof that they didn't do so. If they can't, they may have to pay some of the fees associated with the will contest.

When a loved one's will or other estate plan documents are amended in the later years of their lives to include people to whom they are close (maybe closer than they are with their family), it can be understood that family members are suspicious. That's particularly true if they were expecting what was bequeathed to someone else.

That's why it's essential to notify family members and other beneficiaries of changes to your estate plan that impact them. This can help avoid a nasty and costly probate battle.

If you have a loved one whom you believe could be taken advantage of, talk to that person's estate planning attorney or seek guidance from another California estate planning attorney.

Source: Wealth Management, "Gifts to Caregivers," Michael J. Fedalen, accessed Nov. 24, 2017

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