Simply having a close relationship or friendship with an elderly friend or family member is not considered undue influence unless you use your relationship to pressure, influence, or control the person’s will to do something that they would not freely do on their own for your own self-interests. Elderly persons are especially susceptible and vulnerable to a family member, caregiver, attorney, business manager, accountant or financial manager, neighbor or even a stranger having undue influence over their decision making authority and financial assets. This is especially when the elderly person has been diagnosed with cognitive decline and memory loss from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Circumstances that may lead to undue influence may include:
• The recent death of the elderly person’s spouse
• Living alone
• Inability to manage one’s finances
• Cognitive decline
The perpetrator may try to isolate the elderly person from other family members or friends or keep the person dependent upon the perpetrator. The perpetrator may convince the elderly person that other family members no longer care about their well-being or are trying to take their money or assets. Undue influence can have devastating effects on the elderly victim including loss of personal property and possessions, cash, power over one’s own life and can even lead to more serious health problems and early death.
If you are concerned about the vulnerability of an elderly family member of a friend, or you are afraid that someone may misconstrue your relationship with the person as undue influence, it is a good idea to encourage the elderly family member to maintain relationships with other family, friends and neighbors. If you are a caregiver, it is especially important to maintain a professional relationship with the person you are caring for and not to accept excessive amounts of gifts or money that the person’s family may perceive as undue influence over the person.
If you are responsible for hiring a caregiver for your elderly family member, be sure to conduct a thorough background check to make sure that the person does not have any sort of criminal history for fraud, embezzlement or other more serious offenses that may prove to be physically harmful to the elderly person. Other ways to protect an elderly person from undue influence from another is to check on the elderly relative or friend routinely by calling and physically visiting the person to make sure that the person is well and unharmed and that there is nothing out of the ordinary going on.
As family members age, it is important to have effective estate planning in place such as a will and/or trust. These measures protect the elderly person from undue influence and fraud. A qualified and experienced New York estate attorney can prepare the necessary documents including health care directives and power of attorney forms. The attorney can also review the documents periodically and suggest revisions that may be necessary to comply with any changes in the New York probate or federal estate tax laws. If you would like to speak with an estate attorney, you can call me at (212) 233-1233.