Undue influence happens when an elder adult is threatened, pressured, manipulated or cajoled into making changes to his or her estate plans, property ownership or financial assets that the elder adult wouldn't make but for the undue influence. The undue influencer can be a family member, romantic interest, friend, caregiver or professional. Unfortunately, the results of undue influence are frequently only discovered after the elder adult has died and family members realize that the elder made changes in a will, trust or deed prior to death.
The problem in discovering undue influence is that the conduct of the influencer is often concealed. However, there are a number of factors that are commonly found in cases of elder undue influence. Each factor, by itself, might be benign and obviously there are many cases where a family member or friend is legitimately compensated for caring for an elder. On the other hand, a combination of the following checklist of factors may raise red flags that an elder adult is vulnerable and is the victim of undue influence.
Signs that an elder adult is vulnerable to undue influence:
The elder adult lives alone.
The elder is recently widowed.
The elder is physically disabled.
The elder has a medical condition.
The elder is dependent on assistance from others for groceries, medical appointments and banking.
The elder is experiencing memory loss and/or other cognitive deficits.
the elder has a medical diagnosis of dementia.
The elder has been recently hospitalized.
The elder lives away from family.
The elder has few friends.
The elder does not have many outside activities.
The elder is lonely.
The elder is having difficulty managing his or her finances.
The elder does not drive.
Signs of a potential undue influencer in the elder adult's life:
An family member moves back into the elder's house from out of state or from another city.
A family member has historically lived with his or her elder parent but does not work.
The elder has a new close friend.
The elder has a new romantic interest.
There is a significant age difference between the elder and the romantic interest.
The elder has a new financial advisor, insurance agent or attorney.
Signs of the undue influencer exerting control over the elder adult:
The influencer takes the elder to all of his or her medical and/or dental appointments.
The influencer supervises the elder's medication management.
Other family members do not receive information regarding the elder's health and well being
The influencer takes the elder to conduct all of the elder's banking transactions.
The influencer has possession of the elder's check book.
The influencer pays all of the elder's bills.
The influencer drives the elder's car.
The influencer buys all of the elder's groceries.
The influencer is always present when the elder has interactions with family or friends.
The influencer answers the telephone and is present in the room when the elder speaks with family.
The influencer tells family members that the elder does not want to talk to them.
The influencer tells the elder that the elder's family members and friends are not calling.
The influencer isolates the elder from family interactions.
The elder does not attend family events such as birthdays and parties that the elder used to.
The elder begins to make accusations about family members that seem to have been fed to the elder.
The elder checks in with the influencer before making any decisions.
The elder looks to the influencer for cues as to what he or she should say.
The influencer speaks for the elder in meetings with physicians, financial representatives and other interactions.
The influencer opens the elder's mail, including bank and financial statements.
The influencer redirects the elder's mail to the influencer's address.
Signs that the elder adult is making legal changes under undue influence:
The elder has a long-term or existing estate plan.
The existing estate plan either treated the influencer equally with other family members or did not include the influencer.
The elder has an existing estate planning attorney.
The influencer locates a new estate planning attorney.
The influencer may "attorney shop" calling several different attorneys.
The estate planning attorney is a different city that the elder's existing attorney.
The influencer is the primary contact with the new attorney.
The influencer makes the appointment for the elder to see the new attorney.
The influencer drives the elder to the appointment with the new attorney.
The influencer accompanies the elder into the appointment with the attorney.
The influencer speaks for the elder at the appointment.
The elder seeks prompts from the influencer.
The elder asks to change an existing estate plan distribution which benefits the influencer.
The elder seeks to give the influencer a significant gift.
The elder asks to have a new power of attorney naming the influencer as the elder's agent.
The elder asks to have a new health care power of attorney naming the influencer as the elder's patient advocate.
The elder seeks to have the influencer named as personal representative of the elder's estate.
The elder seeks to have the influencer named as trustee of the elder's trust.
The elder changes a deed or deeds to give the influencer an interest in the elder's real property.
The new changes are not disclosed to other family members.
The influencer has the originals or copies of the new will, deed or other legal documents.
The influencer does not disclose any information regarding the elder's dementia or cognitive deficits.
Signs that the elder adult is making financial changes under undue influence
The elder adult adds the influencer to the elder's checking and/or savings accounts.
The influencer accompanies the elder to withdraw money from a bank or credit union.
The elder starts to make unusually large withdrawals or writes large checks on the accounts.
The elder starts to make large and/or frequent cash withdrawals.
The elder starts to make ATM withdrawals that do not necessitate going into the bank.
The elder allows the influencer to write checks on the elder's account.
The elder starts to "pay" the influencer for the influencer's "caregiving"
The elder pays bills for the influencer.
The elder pays the influencer's credit card debts.
The elder makes frequent and unusual purchases on the elder's credit card.
The elder gives the influencer the elder's credit card or debit card for the influencer to use.
The influencer takes the elder to the social security administration office.
The influencer becomes the representative payee for the elder's social security benefits.
The influencer contacts the elder's financial advisor.
The influencer is given power of attorney over bank and financial accounts.
The influencer obtains change of beneficiary forms.
The change of beneficiary forms are completed by the influencer and signed by the elder.
The change of beneficiary forms are faxed, sent or delivered by the influencer.
The change of beneficiaries on the elder's financial accounts are in favor of the influencer.
The elder opens joint bank accounts with the influencer.
Required annual minimum distribution checks from retirement accounts are cashed.
The elder makes large or multiple "gifts" of money to the influencer.
The elder "loans' the influencer significant sums of money without a promissory note or written agreement.
There are options if you suspect that a loved one is the victim of undue influence. You can contact our office if you would like to discuss whether you have discovered any of the above "red flags" with regard to your family member. We can look at legal safeguards for an elderly victim, or legal remedies in Michigan to set aside documents executed by a deceased family member while under undue influence.