Your aunt was in a car accident. Thankfully she made it through, but the injuries she sustained required that she have a full-time caregiver. Your cousin, her eldest, adult child, took up the role. You visit your aunt frequently, and you have noticed she is not making rational decisions that are in her best interest – something very out of character for her. You also notice that your cousin appears to have taken an unhealthy interest in your aunt’s assets, and more particularly, the lawsuit settlement. After a few weeks of this, you’re now starting to feel that something just isn’t quite right.

Defining Undue Influence

The scenario above is, unfortunately, not abnormal. And it could be a sign that your cousin is unduly influencing your aunt. But you can’t know for sure because you never witness anything overt, yet you generally leave with the feeling that something is wrong. Attorneys, especially probate and elder law attorneys, are always on the lookout for undue influence.

Simply put, undue influence is when one person influences another person (the victim) to make him or her do something that is not of his or her own free will or, in many cases, in their best interest. In the case of elderly victims, it is a form of elder abuse. Identifying it in legal matters can invalidate estate plans, beneficiary designations, deeds, contracts, settlements, and more.

When Does Undue Influence Usually Occur?

Undue influence is typically found in circumstances of vulnerability, and generally takes place in the presence of only the manipulator and the victim. The victim is typically ill or injured, aged, scared, brain damaged, suffering from dementia or a physical dependency, lonely, or isolated.

Because undue influence isn’t usually explicit, it can be pretty difficult to identify. Clinical psychologist Margaret Singer has outlined six signs to help us better understand what undue influence could look like so we can easily identify it:

  • The victim – i.e., your loved one, neighbor, friend, etc. – becomes isolated from other friends and family; (2) The victim is convinced that the manipulator is the only one who can be trusted; (3) The victim believes he/she is dependent on the manipulator and there is no one else that can help them; (4) He or she feels powerless, and their sense of power continuously diminishes; (5) He or she is fearful of ordinary things, and irrationally believes the manipulator is the only one that can protect their life, property, or family; and (6) The victim is unaware of the manipulation. He/she is oblivious to any form of coercion.

It Is Your Business.

Witnessing undue influence over someone can take an emotional toll, especially if the manipulator is a relative or someone with whom you previously had a good relationship. Even if the victim is your loved one or best friend, it can feel like you’re sticking your nose in other people’s business, let alone if you believe the victim is a neighbor or someone else you aren’t very close with. But undue influence is serious. It is a form of abuse, regardless of the age of the victim. Someone is being taken advantage of after they have already experienced a hardship that made them vulnerable in the first place. It is everyone’s business to make sure our loved ones and neighbors are safe and out of harm’s way.

Let Us Help.

As probate lawyers, we frequently have to make determinations as to whether undue influence may be present in a variety of scenarios. If you feel like someone you know is falling victim to undue influence, please contact our office. Not only can we help you identify undue influence, but we can guide you to the resources that can stop the coercion and protect your loved one from further harm. If you are afraid to get involved for any reason, know that you can make an anonymous complaint to Adult Protective Services in the county where the victim resides and they will investigate the matter further. You can also file a police report. Abuse of a vulnerable adult, even if not physical abuse, is a crime in the State of Michigan. or 248.399.3300.