Written by David G, Knitter
Undue influence is a tactic used to commit financial abuse of an elder.
Undue influence is the conduct of a perpetrator that prevents the victim from acting freely and instead imposes the perpetrators choices upon the victim. Undue influence occurs in secrecy and often through isolation of the victim from their support network. The victim is usually vulnerable and lonely.
There are common signs of undue influence. A “new” friend or previous unknown or disliked relative shows up. Changes in long held personal habits of the victim occur. The victim moves away from the old friends, advisors and close family members and eventually loses the old support network. Changes are observed in who the victim likes and trusts. There is active isolation and “badmouthing” of others by the perpetrator, especially those who might act and help. Control over assets and new spending habits emerge including uncharacteristic “gifts” to the perpetrator. The perpetrator almost always seems nice and claims to be helping out. Do not confuse good natured help with systematic isolation and transfer of assets way from the elder. Undue influence is difficult to define so an example is provided so you “know it when you see it.”
You have known your neighbor Bob for many years. Bob just lost Sally, his beloved spouse of 40 years. They lived in the home across the street from you. Bob and Sally rarely spent money on themselves. Bob’s children live out of town, but Bob loved them very much. Bob has a niece Jane who lives in the area. Although Bob and Sally mentioned the niece had personal troubles, you never saw her or met her prior to the memorial service.
Within a month or two after Sally passed, you noticed the niece visiting almost daily. You saw brand new furniture including a big screen TV delivered. This seemed uncharacteristic of Bob as he was thrifty by nature and watched very little TV. You started to see less and less of Bob. The Friday morning coffee you had enjoyed with Bob for 10 years was cancelled. Initially you thought that it was very nice that Jane was helping out as Bob seemed lonely and lost without Sally. You believed Bob preferred to be with his family that lived locally. You did not give it another thought, until Jane showed up with the brand new Cadillac and moved into Bob’s home.
You went to visit Bob and were told by Jane that Bob was sleeping. You tried to call and Jane always answered. Bob was never available to talk. You did think it was odd that you no longer saw Bob taking his morning walk. It was almost a month and you still had not spoken to Bob. You called his kids and they stated that their dad was upset and would not talk to them since Jane had said they were not to be trusted. You were told that Jane had said you were after Bob’s money which was not true. The kids expressed concern that Jane was now handling the money with a power of attorney. The power of attorney was changed by Jane’s attorney as was the long held estate plan. Jane was the new beneficiary. You discovered that the reason Jane previously had not been around was that she was an illegal drug user and Bob and Sally frowned upon that type of conduct. You are told that all of Bob’s money has been spent by Jane and the house might need to be sold.
You have likely witnessed the use of undue influence of Bob by Jane to her financial benefit which is financial elder abuse.