Estate planning is a process that ensures people distribute a loved one’s assets according to their wishes after they die. However, there is a hidden threat that can compromise the integrity of this process, commonly called undue influence.
This subtle force can have far-reaching consequences, hurting the fairness and equity of carefully laid plans.
Defining undue influence
Undue influence happens when someone manipulates or pressures another individual into making decisions that benefit the influencer. In the realm of estate planning, this can show up as manipulative tactics that override the true intentions of the planner. Noticing such influence is challenging, as it often happens behind closed doors.
One of the most harmful aspects of undue influence is the erosion of autonomy. In the context of estate planning, individuals may find themselves following the wishes of a persuasive family member or friend, compromising their ability to make decisions independently. This erosion not only affects the planner but also undermines the very essence of estate planning, which is respecting someone’s final wishes.
Undue influence can create rifts within families that may never fully heal. When decisions happen under intense stress, beneficiaries may receive more or less than intended, causing resentment and anger. These feelings can lead to long legal battles, draining both financial resources and emotional well-being.
Beyond the emotional toll, undue influence can result in outright financial exploitation. Individuals with bad intentions may take advantage of a vulnerable person’s lack of protection to push for changes to a will or estate plan that favors them. This financial exploitation not only harms the planner’s legacy but also leaves a lasting impact on the financial well-being of the heirs.
Undue influence can distort the wishes of those who are 65 or older, who make up 17% of the American population as of 2020. By being proactive, individuals can ensure that their legacy remains a true reflection of their desires.