It’s easy to take advantage of an elderly person and have them make a will leaving out people they care about. Here are some stories of how people attempt to steal an inheritance, and the ways in which a New York estate lawyer like Albert Goodwin, Esq. helps people undo some of the damage.
“My aunt and uncle died and I was completely left out of their will. It turned out that my cousins arranged a lawyer appointment, told the lawyer what to write, took my aunt to the law office and had them sign a will. My aunt and uncle would never have done this themselves. I’m pretty sure my aunt and uncle did not know what they were doing.”
A valid will has to be made free of undue influence. Meaning, the will has to “express the will of the people making it”. When someone else arranges the appointment with the lawyer, you can see how the will is not completely the product of the will of the person who supposedly made the will. A will also has to be made by a person with sufficient mental capacity. A person who does not know who his relatives or friends are, what their property is and the nature of a will is considered to not have the capacity to make a will. We can subpoena the medical records of the people who made the will and see if they had enough mental capacity or not.
“My sister turned my mother against me and had her make a will leaving me out of her estate. She basically plotted to wait for the right situation and took advantage of it. The irony is, my sister is the one who arranged the situation to have my mother be upset at me in the first place.”
Grooming and manipulating people and taking advantage of them is considered undue influence. Taking advantage of someone when they are at their week point, when they are elderly, mentally incapacitated and upset, is a low thing to do. People think that they can get away with it, but undue influence, coupled with incapacity, is a ground to overturn a will.
“My uncle did not let me speak to my grandfather and did not let me come near him. He screened my phone calls and made it impossible for me to visit. When I came to see him, he told me that my grandfather doesn’t want to see me. He then told my grandfather that I did not care about him and convinced him to make a will leaving me out of his estate.”
Isolating someone from their friends and family is a sure sign of undue influence. Screening phone calls, coming up with executes, blocking contact, is all a part of a plan to trick the vulnerable incapacitated senior into thinking that no one but the perpetrator cares about them. They gaslight the elderly victim into modifying their estate plan to benefit the perpetrator. They create a false world where the victim is tricked into thinking that their friends and family no longer care about them and have forgotten them. This injustice does much more than deprive the victim’s family of inheritance. More importantly, it deprives the victim of the love and connection with their family, and this is a tragedy.
“My brother lives close to my father and I live in a different state. My brother is not providing correct care for my father, but he did make sure to have my father make a will, and that will leaves me out. “
If someone lives close to their parents, they are expected to help them. They are not expected to instead spend their energy on manipulating their parents taking their other children out of the estate plan. Using their influence and power over the parents’ lives to gain an advantage in dividing their inheritance is undue influence and can be grounds for invalidating the will.
“My cousin’s caretaker had him make a will leaving his inheritance to her.”
Caretakers are obligated to care about their patients. When someone is a home health aide or a nurse, they are not doing the caring out of love – it is their job. But some unscrupulous caretakers decide to “get smart” and try to get an “extra bonus” by having their patients leave inheritance to them. How is it even legal to have caretakers get inheritance from their patients? There should be a law that invalidates such bequests automatically. Meanwhile, there is recourse through New York courts. The good news is, courts frequently rule against paid caretakers in inheritance cases.
“My aunt and uncle’s friends got their inheritance. They manipulated my aunt and uncle into giving them the inheritance, leaving the blood family with nothing”
Whether manipulating existing “friends” or becoming friends with someone in order to get their inheritance, this behavior is essentially a con. It is true that some people do have stronger relationships with their friends than with their family, and some people are estranged from their family. But that does not mean that conmen should get the inheritance that belongs in the family.
There are many “flavors” of undue influence and many ways to overturn a will that is a product of undue influence and diminished capacity. Taking advantage of the elderly should not be rewarded with a big payday, and victims of will fraud should not be silent. You can use the court system to protect your rights.
Albert Goodwin, Esq. is an estate litigation lawyer in New York City. He can be reached at (212) 233-1233.