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How do you know if your loved one was under undue influence?

Not many people can imagine that someone would manipulate their elderly loved ones. However, it is a sad reality that some people will use others for their personal gain, including with respect to the creation of various estate planning documents including deeds, powers of attorney or a will. 

In California, individuals can contest a will if they believe their loved one was under undue influence while creating it. However, it is important for individuals to know the signs of undue influence so they can protect their loved ones, prevent undue influence in the first place or, if necessary, effectively contest a will.

Here are some of the common warning signs of undue influence:

1. The individual is isolated 

The person exercising undue influence often isolates the vulnerable individual. This usually allows them to maintain control over that person. Isolation can manifest itself in many ways, including:

  • The influencer is always present at the individual's home and rarely leaves their side to monitor all communication;
  • The individual stops answering their phone or their phone number is changed, or you hear the influencer prompting your loved one what to say;
  • The influencer reviews and controls the individual's incoming mail;
  • The influencer altogether terminates contact between the individual and their loved ones;
  • The influencer insists on attending all appointments; or
  • The individual stops attending church, family, or other community gatherings they have historically attended.

2. Your loved one increasingly relies on one person

As we get older, it is common to depend on others more. And it is especially common for individuals to rely primarily on one person, such as a spouse, child or sibling. This kind of dependence is normal.

However, in a case of undue influence, the individual often has no choice but to rely on the influencer. That is because the influencer manipulates the situation, so they often have control over the loved one's:

  • Finances and estate planning matters
  • Mail and access to information
  • Property or assets
  • Medication and appointment scheduling
  • Transportation
  • Daily needs and life

Total reliance is often what fuels the power of the undue influence. 

3. Last-minute changes to the will show favor to that one person

Another common sign of undue influence is if a loved one:

  • Starts showering one person with gifts;
  • Begins putting that person's needs ahead of their own needs; 
  • Changes lawyers they've had for many years; or
  • They make changes to their will, trust dcouments, or powers of attorney that are all in that person's favor.

It is essential to update an estate plan regularly. However, families should be suspicious of sudden changes to their loved one's will that show a considerable preference.

It is critical for California families to remember that undue influence can take many forms. These three signs might be some of the most common, but they are not the only ones. Contesting a will on the grounds of undue influence is possible, but families should be on the lookout for these signs long before the probate process begins to protect their loved ones.

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