6 steps to avoid allegations of undue influence

On Behalf of | May 30, 2024 | Estate Planning

Undue influence occurs when someone persuades a person to act against their own free will, usually for the benefit of another person. In estate planning, this can mean someone is manipulated into changing their will or other estate documents.

In Illinois, avoiding allegations of undue influence is necessary to ensure that your true wishes are honored.

1. Start early and plan ahead

One effective way to avoid allegations of undue influence is to start the estate planning process early. When someone creates their will and other estate documents while they are still in good health and of sound mind, it is harder for others to argue coercion. Planning ahead allows for thoughtful decision-making and reduces the chance that any single event or influence could sway these decisions.

2. Document the process thoroughly

Keeping records of meetings, decisions and the reasoning behind these decisions can provide clear evidence that you acted of your own free will. This includes noting the dates and times of discussions and documenting the presence of any witnesses. Thorough records help show that you are in control of your decisions and not under undue influence.

3. Use multiple witnesses

Having multiple witnesses during the signing of estate documents can also help avoid allegations of undue influence. Illinois requires at least two witnesses for the signing of a will. Choosing unbiased witnesses who do not stand to benefit from the will can further strengthen the validity of the document. These witnesses can later testify that you appeared to be acting voluntarily and understood what they were signing.

4. Consider a medical evaluation

About 17.2% of the Illinois population are adults 65 and older. Senior citizens are the group most vulnerable to claims of undue influence.

Having a doctor assess and confirm that you are of sound mind when making decisions provides strong evidence against any claims. You can include documentation of this evaluation with the estate planning records. It serves as an additional layer of protection.

5. Communicate openly with family

Open communication with family members about estate planning decisions can help prevent disputes and allegations of undue influence. When family members understand the reasoning behind certain decisions, they are less likely to feel that undue influence occurred.

6. Review and update documents regularly

Life circumstances change, and so might your wishes. Regular updates ensure that the documents reflect your current intentions.

Several proactive steps can help minimize the chances of undue influence allegations.