Understanding Undue Influence
Of all the legal theories that are used in challenging estate planning documents, undue influence is the most complex. To prevail on an undue influence case it must be demonstrated that the person would not have signed the disputed document on their own, but only did so because of their free will was overcome by the person asserting the influence – that they were manipulated into doing it.
Chalgian and Tripp lawyers have argued and prevailed in undue influence cases in trial courts and appellate courts, and understand the unique nuances of undue influence cases. They know what evidence to look for, and recognize the patterns of conduct that are common in these cases:
- Isolation of the vulnerable adult by the perpetrator
- Efforts by the perpetrator to alienate the vulnerable adult from their natural supports
- Secrecy and a lack of transparency with respect to the affairs of the vulnerable adult
- The appearance of new friends and relationships, and a unreasonable distrust of previously trusted advisors
Proving Undue Influence
While the standard of proofs for establishing undue influence is high, Michigan law provides for a “presumption” of undue influence in some cases, which presumption can enhance the likelihood of success. The presumption arises when three facts are established: (1) That the perpetrator had an opportunity to influence the victim, (2) That the perpetrator benefited from the victim’s actions, and (3) That the perpetrator stood in a fiduciary relationship with the victim.
It’s also important to recognize that undue influence cases are often combined with cases in which lack of capacity is also alleged. There is often a direct relationship between the cognitive impairments of a vulnerable adult and proving undue influence. The weaker a person’s mind, the easier it is to overcome their free will.