Undue influence is a legal term that refers to a situation where one person exerts an excessive amount of control over another person, often resulting in that person making decisions that are not in their best interest. But what are the elements of undue influence? In order to prove undue influence, there are five key elements that must be present. This post will break down those elements and explain them in simple terms.
The existence of undue influence.
The first element of undue influence is the existence of a relationship between the two parties involved. This relationship can take many forms, such as a family relationship, a business relationship, or a relationship between a caregiver and a vulnerable adult. The key factor is that there is a relationship of trust and dependence between the two parties. Without this relationship, it is unlikely that undue influence could occur.
A recent Arizona case.
In the Bates v. Bates case, the family members contesting a trust amendment failed to show that the alleged influencer (the wife of the man who created a trust) had actually influenced the Trust Protector who later amended the trust. Even assuming that the wife had undue influence over her husband, that did not mean that the wife had undue influence over the person who actually amended the trust.
The exercise of undue influence.
The second element of undue influence is the exercise of that influence. This means that the person exerting the influence is using their power or authority to manipulate the other person’s decisions or actions. This can take many forms, such as emotional manipulation, threats, or coercion. The key factor is that the person exerting the influence is using their power to control the other person’s behavior in a way that is not in their best interests.
Making the vulnerable person’s desires conform to the influencer’s.
The next element of undue influence is that the exertion of power or authority over the vulnerable person must have the effect of taking over the vulnerable person’s will. As the Arizona court stated in In re Estate of McCauley, 101 Ariz. 8, 10 (Ariz. 1966):
“… a person unduly influences a testator or testatrix in executing a will when that person through his power over the mind of the testator or testatrix makes the latter’s desires conform to his own, thereby overmastering the volition of testator or testatrix.”
The influencer often does this through emotional manipulation, coercion, or threats. The person exerting the influence may use their position of authority or trust to control the vulnerable person’s decisions or actions, often to their own benefit. This can be a difficult element to prove, as it often involves subtle or indirect forms of manipulation. However, if it can be shown that the vulnerable person was coerced or manipulated into making decisions that were not in their best interests, this may be evidence of undue influence.
The execution of a document that the signor would not have executed but for such influence.
The fourth key element of undue influence is the execution of a document, such as a will or contract, that the vulnerable person would not have executed if not for the influence of the manipulator. This means that the document was not the true expression of the vulnerable person’s wishes, but rather the result of the manipulator’s control over them. This element is often the most important in legal cases involving undue influence, as it directly affects the validity of the document in question. If it can be shown that the document was executed under undue influence, it may be invalidated by a court.
Unfair or improper benefit to the influencer.
The final key element of undue influence is the unfair or improper benefit that the influencer receives as a result of their manipulation. This benefit could be financial, such as inheriting a large sum of money from the vulnerable person’s estate, or non-financial, such as gaining control over the vulnerable person’s personal relationships or living arrangements. The benefit must be significant enough to show that the influencer had a motive for exerting their control over the vulnerable person. In a legal sense, this is called “damages.” The vulnerable person must have suffered a loss.
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If you suspect that a loved one has been the victim of undue influence, it is essential to take action to protect their rights and interests. Understanding the elements of undue influence can help you recognize when this type of manipulation is taking place. At our law firm, we have extensive experience helping clients navigate complex legal issues related to undue influence. Contact us today at 602-443-4888 to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help you protect your loved ones and hold those responsible accountable. Remember, taking action is crucial when it comes to protecting the vulnerable from undue influence.