Undue influence occurs when a dominant person, for personal gain, substitutes their will for the will of a dependent and vulnerable person. Money is usually the motive behind this type of abuse. And most commonly this type of abuse occurs with the elderly and disabled. This is because the elderly and disabled are often more dependent upon others for daily care and become susceptible and vulnerable. The relationship is more than just persuasion, it is a psychological control and the relationship holds many similarities to domestic violence. One of the key factors in gaining this type of control is the isolation of the weaker person.
Identifying this abuse can be difficult. Below are examples of how this abuse can manifest itself.
- The victim takes actions that are contrary to his or her previous habits, values or beliefs. This could be signing documents or changing estate plans.
- Sudden changes occur to the victim’s financial management and portfolio (e.g. changing titles on accounts or property, cashing in insurance policies).
- Changing professionals without cause or warning when they have used the same professionals for years and had a trusting relationship with those professionals (e.g. stock brokers, physicians, realtor, attorneys, bankers).
- The victim becomes systematically isolated from family, friends and others who have been involved in their care and activities.
- The victim suddenly moves under the guise of “better care,” or someone moves into the victim’s home without warning, cause, or permission of the family.
- The victim’s income checks are directed differently than under the usual arrangement.
- The victim places newfound trust in acquaintances.
- There is a promise of “life-long care” in exchange for property.
- The statements of the victim and the abuser vary when concerning the financial affairs of the victim or the disposition of assets.
- The victim is never left alone. No one ever speaks to the victim without the abuser’s knowledge.
- Unusual patterns in the victim’s finances. (e.g. numerous checks are written to “cash” and in rounded sums)
- The victim reports meeting a wonderful new friend and then begins declining invitations to family events and becomes suspicious of family members where no suspicion had previously existed.
- The victim is pressed into a transaction without having the opportunity to think about it or consult trusted advisors.
An effective way to combat undue influence is to gain legal control over the victim’s resources. This usually involves petitioning for conservatorship and/or guardianship through the probate court. Depending on the severity of the abuse, and the relationship between the victim and abuser, the victim may or may not be willing or helpful. A complete pre-filing investigation and the assembly of as much evidence as possible is critical to maximize the likelihood of a successful outcome.
If you suspect someone you love has fallen victim of undue influence, contact our offices to speak with one of our experienced probate and elder law attorneys for a complimentary consultation. Platt & Westby, P.C. has been in business for over 40 years and has valley wide locations.
Platt and Westby, P.C. has offices in Phoenix and Gilbert, Arizona.