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Are you a caregiver? Beware of undue influence

If you care for a California resident, you undoubtedly take your job seriously, whether your patient is a family member or someone you were hired to care for. Not surprisingly, many patients develop a close relationship with their caregiver and wish to leave them “a little something” in their will. If your patient indicates that (s)he is thinking of doing this, however, be aware that someone may challenge the will if that “little something” turns out to be a major bequest.

As a state bar association recently pointed out, undue influence is a favorite ground when someone challenges a will. It means that the challenger alleges that you imposed your will on your patient and consequently (s)he left you a large bequest.

Undue influence red flags

If someone challenges your patient’s will on the grounds of undue influence, (s)he will likely allege that you did one or more of the following during your patient’s lifetime:

  • You isolated, or attempted to isolate, your patient from his or her friends and family.
  • You always answered your patient’s phone calls rather than letting him or her answer them.
  • You often told the callers that (s)he could not talk to them because (s)he was sleeping or otherwise unavailable.
  • You recommended that your patient’s friends and family stop visiting because (s)he found their visits upsetting.
  • When your patient’s friends and families visited him or her anyhow, you usually stayed in the room and often attempted to steer the conversation.
  • You gave your patient all of his or her medicines, thereby putting yourself in control of what medications (s)he received, when she received them, and the dosages thereof.
  • You paid all your patient’s bills and advised him or her about purchases and other financial matters in addition to providing him or her with physical care.

Keep in mind that even if you do some of these things for your patient, that does not mean that you are unduly influencing him or her. It could well mean that you are striving to make your patient’s life as comfortable and happy as possible. Nevertheless, should your patient leave you a large bequest, be prepared for a disgruntled family member to make a will challenge, especially if (s)he failed to receive the bequest (s)he believes (s)he was entitled to. But while you no doubt will find such undue influence allegations hurtful and uncalled for, also keep in mind that the person making them must prove his or her allegations in order to prevail in the will challenge.

This educational information is not intended as legal advice.

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