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Defining Undue Influence: Lessons Learned from Portland Museum of Art v. Germain

The Portland Museum of Art in Maine recently initiated legal action against the caretaker of an art collector. The Museum claimed that the caretaker bequeathed as much as $2 million to museum, but was convinced to not do so before her death.

 

As a result, the art collector changed her will months before death in 2015 and removed the Portland Museum of Art as a primary beneficiary. In legal briefs filed in preparation of the case, the museum alleged that caretaker displayed characteristic signs of elder abuse and kept the art collector from interacting with her family.

 

Unfortunately, there are a number of cases where one person manipulates another individual who is in a vulnerable position to an illness or an advanced age. This manipulation is often done to defraud the individual and take their money.

 

In many cases, the occurrence of this type of pressure is not entirely clear until after a person’s death. In these situations, however, it is not too late to take legal action.

 

If you believe that a loved one was taken advantage of and as a result changed their mind in an estate plan, you should not hesitate to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

 

What Constitutes Undue Influence

 

If you believe that someone had an “undue influence” over another individual’s estate plans, it is important to take legal action in probate court.

 

In many cases, a person seeking to establish undue influence will be required to prove that:

 

  • An estate plan distributes property in a way that a person would not have expected given the surrounding circumstances
  • The person who made the estate plan was greatly dependent on a person who exert influence on them
  • The person who influence the individual took advantage of the person making the estate planning document and benefitted from this change in plan

 

Establishing that Undue Influence Occurred

 

It is often difficult to prevail in a lawsuit where undue influence is believed to have occurred, but it is possible.

 

One of the challenges presented in winning an undue influence case is that the person who created the will is not able to testify about what their reasons or motivations were in creating or revising an estate planning document.

 

Reducing Undue Influence Disputes

 

To avoid the risk of court disputes in relation to undue influence, it can help to take some steps to avoid these claims.

 

One of the best steps that a person should take is to discuss their estate planning goals with all their loved ones so everyone understands what your intentions are.

 

If you are concerned that a loved one is vulnerable and will be taken advantage of, it is important to act now rather than wait to pursue a lawsuit.

 

Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer

 

There are a number of complex areas of law involved with estate planning including undue influence. If you have questions or concerns about the estate planning process, you should not hesitate to speak with an experienced attorney.

Contact Ettinger Estate Planning today for assistance.

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