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How does undue influence work in estate planning?

Undue influence isn’t something that is limited to estate planning, even though that’s where it often shows up. It just happens when one person uses a position of power to influence the other person to make a decision that is not in their own best interests or that they otherwise wouldn’t have made on their own. This could certainly happen in a business setting, perhaps between two business partners.

In terms of estate planning, undo influence usually means that the plan itself may not reflect what the person would have wanted. They have been influenced to change that estate plan, which then affects other beneficiaries.

2 examples of how this could occur

For instance, say that a person has two siblings. One sibling acts as a daily caregiver. But they may resent this role, feeling that the other sibling should help them. They may say that they refuse to provide any more care unless they get the majority of the assets in the estate plan. Their elderly parents then feel pressured to change their estate plan to match these wishes, even though they want to split things up equally.

Another example could be if the sibling who still lives close to home isn’t truthful and tries to create division between the parent and the other sibling. Maybe they lie about that other sibling’s lifestyle or invent personal conflicts just to make the two feel at odds with each other. But their goal for doing this is to get more of the assets in the estate plan – by tricking their parent into wanting to leave fewer assets to the other person – so it’s essentially financial manipulation.

Naturally, serious disputes can arise when there are allegations of undue influence. Those involved need to be well aware of their legal options.