Losing your parents is difficult, even if your parents lived full and productive lives. No matter how old your parents are when they pass, it’s still hard to lose them. In addition to the pain of the loss itself, there are other factors that can make grieving even more difficult. Money is often the last thought on your mind in the wake of such a serious loss. However, when the time comes to read the last will and execute the estate, change to your inheritance can leave you feeling shocked, angry, hurt and frustrated. What could have prompted your parent(s) to reduce your portion of the estate?
It’s very common for one parent to pass well before the other, with the result being a perfect storm of loneliness. Your surviving parent could become dependent on you and your siblings or could require placement in an assisted living facility. Although your parents agreed to terms for their last will, the surviving spouse could still make changes that impact the whole family. When that happens, those changes could violate the wishes of your other parent, as well as destroy the expectations of all known heirs as far as what assets they believed they would eventually inherit.
Your recently deceased loved one, also called a testator, should have created the terms of the last will and estate plan while in good health and in full possession of his or her mental faculties. Many times, changes made in the last weeks or months of a person’s life could be the result of inappropriate influence from other people. Sometimes, one heir or child can slowly manipulate an elderly loved one, until that person changes the last will for the benefit of that individual. Other times, undo influence can come from outside the family, from caretakers or staff who cared for the recently deceased.
It is typically considered financial abuse when a person in a position of authority over vulnerable older adults tries to induce them to change their last wills to include the caretaker. Those who care for the elderly and disabled are already compensated for their work by receiving a wage. Still, some may target the infirm and dying with tragic stories, in hopes of receiving a chuck of that person’s estate. If someone outside the family has gotten added to the last will or the last will got changed to benefit only one member of your family, you may need to contest the will due to “undue influence.“
Undue influence means that someone other than the testator was influencing how the will was created. Lying, manipulation and financial abuse are all frowned on by probate courts. If you believe someone was manipulating your loved one while he or she was dying, you should contest the estate and request that it get reviewed by the probate courts. Contesting an estate can be an emotional process, but doing it can protect the actual wishes of your deceased loved one.