Everyone is free to decide how they want to distribute their own property, either during their lifetime or after their death. However, there are those who would take advantage of an older or disabled person and exert pressure on them to make a bequest or gift they otherwise would not. This is known as undue influence, and it's unfair both to the person being influenced and to his or her loved ones.
If you suspect that your family member was improperly influenced by a caregiver, friend, or other family member to change his or her estate plan in that person's favor, you do have recourse, but you should not hesitate, as your time to act may be limited. A will, trust, deed or beneficiary designation can be set aside by the probate court if there is sufficient evidence to show that its execution was the result of undue influence.
We are all influenced, directly or indirectly, by those around us. How does a court determine if influence was "undue?" There are a number of factors that go into a finding that someone was the victim of undue influence in Michigan:
There are usually two (or more) sides to the story in an undue influence case. Did Mom leave her house to the next-door neighbor out of gratitude for his regular visits, help, and kindness, or because he threatened to stop helping her, or even to harm her, if she didn't leave him the house? Did Grandpa make his aide the beneficiary on his retirement account in recognition of her faithful service, or because she threatened to withhold his medication and care if he didn't?
Ordinarily, the burden of proof is on the person who is alleging undue influence. However, if the alleged influencer had a fiduciary relationship (such as a spouse, child, or an agent under a power of attorney) with the older person, the burden may shift to him or her to show that there was no undue influence.
At Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC, we have represented many clients in cases where undue influence was alleged. We understand that these cases, particularly when they are between family members, can be very stressful and contentious. Whether you believe someone exerted undue influence on your loved one, or you have been unfairly accused of exerting undue influence, we can help. We will use our knowledge and experience to help evaluate the likelihood of success in your case, and we will advocate for you with both strength and support at this difficult time, to see that justice is done.
Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with ample free parking near the office. The firm is only minutes away from the Washtenaw County Courthouse. Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC regularly works with clients in Washtenaw, Wayne, Monroe, Livingston, Genesee and Lenawee Counties and throughout Michigan.