The COVID-19 Crisis Leads to Concerns About Undue Influence
Across the nation, estate planning attorneys have reported a 50-140% increase in the number of people making wills during the COVID crisis. However, a lot of these wills are made from DIY documents and online tools that might not be fully airtight. Those who want to protect themselves and their families need to plan carefully if they want to avoid claims of undue influence.
What Is Undue Influence?
Undue influence is a legal term used to describe someone who is unfairly controlling another for his or her own gain. New Jersey undue influence is officially defined as someone using mental, moral or physical control to take away agency from a person in the state. When it comes to estate planning, this essentially involves any situation where someone manipulates a person into giving away assets he or she otherwise would not want to give away. Some examples of undue influence include:
- An attorney encouraging a senile person to write his or her family out of his or her new will
- A health care worker refusing to give a sick person medication until that individual adds someone as his or her power of attorney
- A caregiver using lies to trick someone into signing a will he or she does not wish to sign
- A neighbor emotionally manipulating a senior into signing a power of attorney document
- An estranged family member threatening a person until he or she signs a document
Signs a Loved One May Have Been Unduly Influenced
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many opportunities for undue influence. Therefore, you need to be on the lookout for anyone who seems to exert an unprecedented level of control over a friend or family member. It is especially important to be cautious when a loved one is sick or isolated, but it can even happen to healthy people.
Any time someone who seems to have no connection to a loved one is suddenly in control of that person’s finances or legal matters, you should be concerned. Often, the person exerting undue influence will try to keep you from seeing your loved one or hide legal documents from you. An influencer will often be present when legal documents are created, or he or she may recommend an attorney to draft wills and other documents.
What to Do If Someone Is Being Unduly Influenced
If you suspect the occurrence of undue influence during the COVID pandemic, you can take steps to contest the document. Generally, the burden of proof is on you if you want to contest the will. You and your estate planning litigation lawyer will need to show that the will or power of attorney contains information or makes decisions you would not expect the person to make. It will also be helpful if you can show the person was incapacitated and point out a motive, such as the influencer benefiting from the new will.
Courts are currently delayed, so it may take some time to decide legal matters like these. Until you can get to court, make sure you hold onto any potential proof of undue influence.
How to Create a Will That Stands Up to Undue Influence Claims
So what should you do if you do want to leave money to someone but think other family members might contest your will? It is perfectly legal to leave money to a health care provider or any other person you choose, but you need to make sure all legal requirements are carefully followed. It will be important to show that you were of sound mind and making decisions wholly on your own. Make sure you consult with an attorney and get unbiased witnesses to sign all your COVID estate planning documents.
Whether you are interested in contesting a will or want to write a sound will yourself, we can help. The Knee Law Firm of Hackensack, NJ, is still working hard during the pandemic. Our experienced estate planning litigation lawyers can guide you through the complexities of New Jersey estate planning law. To schedule a remote consultation with us, fill out our contact form or call (201) 996-1200.