Caregivers help to support those who are vulnerable and incapable of meeting certain needs for themselves. Children require caregivers, as do those with disabling medical conditions. Many older adults, especially those with health challenges, also require caregivers during their golden years.
A person who fills that role for an older adult could be a younger or healthier spouse. It could be a child, grandchild or other family member. It might also be a professional, like a nurse who comes to their house or cares for them at a professional facility. Sometimes, when a caregiver of an older adult becomes the main beneficiary of an older adult’s estate when they die, family members will have a difficult question to answer.
Was there undue influence?
What someone decides to do with their property is their decision. People have control over their own legacies, provided that they first ensure their estate can meet their obligations, such as paying their debts and taxes. What someone decides to include in a will or trust will depend on their personal preferences and their relationships. Unfortunately, sometimes an outside party in a caregiver role will use their relationship with the testator to demand certain state concessions. Undue influence is the term for someone leveraging their relationship with a testator to secure as much of an estate or specific resources from someone’s estate. The document includes someone else’s wishes instead of what the testator desired.
Undue influence might involve coercion, manipulation or even threatening conduct, such as abuse or withholding medication. Those attempting to influence a testator might also interfere in their relationships with other likely beneficiaries. Families often particularly suspect changes made later in life or not long prior to someone passing. They may decide to file a lawsuit so that the prior estate plan or state law will determine what someone receives instead of a will that isn’t an accurate reflection of someone’s wishes. A lawsuit may be the only way to prevent one person’s misconduct from permanently altering the testator’s legacy.
The more suddenly someone’s estate-related changes are enacted and the more they benefit one person in particular, the greater the likelihood that the beneficiaries of the estate may have reason to worry about undue influence. Being able to recognize undue influence, and seeking legal guidance accordingly, could help people protect the true intentions of a loved one who has recently died.