Back in 2011, I met with an elderly person to help her with will and estate planning. “Maggie” wanted to name a couple of friends as executors. She also wanted to gift her entire estate to a lone surviving family member, even though Maggie didn’t have much contact with her.
She was Upset and Unable to Sleep
Just recently I received a call from her. Maggie was clearly upset and had been unable to sleep. She had finally gotten around to finalizing her will but was very unhappy with the results. She asked to set up a meeting to look over her will and fill me in on the details.
Over the past year, someone had befriended her at a church function and gradually earned her trust. Over time, this new friend pressured Maggie into naming her (the new friend) the executor and sole beneficiary of Maggie’s estate. This so-called friend even scheduled an appointment and drove her to the lawyer’s office. During the meeting, the lawyer asked who would be the alternate beneficiary (if this friend died before her). In response, the friend suggested naming her own husband. Maggie adamantly refused.
After our discussion, Maggie decided to revise her will, this time naming an actual trusted friend as executor and a charity as the beneficiary of her estate. Her new decisions made her relieved and happy. Within a week she had signed off on her revised will which now reflected her true intentions.
Signs of Undue Influence
This situation had many of the signs of “undue influence.” This occurs when the person making the will is not acting independently. Instead, someone is influencing the will-maker to make a decision they might not otherwise make. The British Columbia Law Institute has produced a guide that deals with the recognition and prevention of undue influence.
The guide includes some red flags to look out for:
- An unusual gift to a beneficiary; sudden change for no apparent reason; frequent changes.
- The influencer initiates instructions which also benefit him or her; beneficiary speaks for will-maker.
- The influencer is overly helpful.
- The influencer insists on being present during the interview with lawyer/notary.
- The influencer has negative and/or controlling attitude to will-maker.
We can learn a number of lessons from Maggie’s experience
Update and finalize your will and incapacity documents today! You can’t predict when your life will change. Be sure to share your plans with your representatives and beneficiaries. Give them a copy of the documents. Look over your documents every 3 to 5 years – or anytime there is a life event – to make sure your wishes are current and reflect your estate goals. According to one lawyer, it is not uncommon for a single older person to name the same person as executor and beneficiary. Single people have greater opportunities to consider charity as a significant beneficiary in their will.
Has someone influenced you into making unwise changes or decisions in your will and/or incapacity documents? Or has someone unduly influenced someone you know? If so, please seek out a second opinion from an independent source or other trusted friend. Abundance Canada provides this 3rd party perspective free of charge.
Contributed by Kevin Davidson
Gift Planning Consultant