Undue influence is a form of psychological abuse, related to the phenomena of mind-control. Defined as the substitution of one person’s will for the true desires of another, undue influence generally occurs when the victim is incapacitated by cognitive impairment, physical or mental illness or some other vulnerability such as recent bereavement. Undue influence is usually accompanied by fraud or duress by the perpetrator, generally someone in a position of trust or authority, who seeks financial gain at the expense of the victim.

Elderly people with assets such as their own homes, stocks, bonds, and other material and financial assets, are most likely to become victims of undue influence due to their life circumstances.

Perpetrators almost always begin with a close and trusting relationship with the victim, and most often perpetrators are family members. Family members sometimes have a financial duty to the victim as their attorney-in-fact, and use that relationship to take financial advantage of the victim. Some family members convince the vulnerable adult to make them attorney-in-fact in and may use any variety of means to accompish this including coercion and threats, some taking advantage of that elder because they have made a past mistake or error in managing finances.

How does one deal with supspected undue influence or financial explotiation? If there were an easy answer to this question, the prevalence of undue influence and financial exploitation would be less and when it occurred, it would be more easily resolved.  When any of the warning signs listed above are identified, it is imperative that a trusted family member or professional – or even better, several people working together – insist on a private visit with the suspected victim. The client’s attorney should be contacted and notified about legal changes that were made by the perpetrator’s attorney. It is often necessary to contact authorities such as Adult Protective Services or police agencies to force the perpetrator to allow a visit from relatives or professionals such as an attorney, accountant or doctor.
Thorough documentation of any and all signs of undue influence is helpful in establishing the pattern of
isolation, siege mentality, dependency and powerlessness that allows the perpetrator to gain control of the victim. When they receive timely notification of undue influence and financial exploitation, law
enforcement officials are willing to prosecute this type of abuse and exploitation.
Excerpted from Issues on Aging.