Undue influence refers to situations where one person exerts excessive pressure, manipulation or control over another person to make them act against their own will or best interests. In legal contexts, it often pertains to situations where a vulnerable person is coerced or manipulated into making decisions, such as financial transactions or changes to legal documents, including wills or contracts.
But this does not mean that all heated or otherwise consequential discussions serve as evidence of undue influence. For instance, perhaps you talked to your parents a few years ago about their estate plan and offered advice. They asked for it, and you were just trying to be helpful. But now, after your parents have passed away, a sibling is threatening to sue, claiming that the terms of their estate plan shouldn’t be upheld because your advice constitutes undue influence.
This scenario can be undeniably stressful. As can the reverse, wherein you are concerned that someone else may have exerted undue influence over a loved one’s decision-making. In either event, understanding what kinds of action are generally perceived as undue influence can help you to make informed decisions about how to proceed.
Uncharacteristic changes in behavior or decisions
Sudden or unexplained changes in a victim’s behavior or decisions, especially related to significant financial matters or personal affairs, could be indicative of external influence. For instance, perhaps your parents had drafted a will years ago that split things up evenly, but a new will favors certain people.
Excessive persuasion or pressure
An influencer might use excessive pressure, manipulation or emotional coercion to push a victim into making decisions that benefit the influencer. A common example of this is when a beneficiary is also an unofficial caregiver and they threaten not to provide that care if the alterations to the estate plan aren’t made.
Lack of free will
A victim may seem hesitant, fearful or unable to freely express their own desires or preferences in decision-making due to the dominant influence of another person.
Disproportionate benefit to the influencer
If an influencer receives a disproportionately large benefit from the decisions made by the victim, it could indicate undue influence rather than a voluntary decision.
Recognizing signs of undue influence is crucial to protect individuals from exploitation or coercion. Additionally, if you’ve been falsely accused, you need to know how to defend your interests. So, no matter which side of the equation you’re on, it pays to know what legal options you have available to you. Seeking legal guidance is a good way to begin.