Undue Influence: A Form of Elder Abuse

Oct 18, 2016 | Estate Planning

Mickey Rooney, who earned tens of millions of dollars during his life, was reported to have only $18,000.00 when he passed away in 2014.  Mr. Rooney appeared before the Senate Special Aging Committee in 2011 and testified he had been a victim of elder-abuse by his wife and stepchildren, stripped “of the ability to make even the most basic decisions about my life.”  This process began after Mr. Rooney confided to a Disney executive about the abuse while filming  The Muppets, which prompted his attorneys to file a Petition for a Conservator to protect him and recover his assets.

Undue influence is the exploitation of an individual often due to the individual’s age, health, failing mental capacity, or the overall tendency to trust others.  While the elderly are especially susceptible, anyone is vulnerable to undue influence, including the ill, stressed, lonely or frightened of any age.   It can come in many forms: family, neighbors, paid personal aides, church members, and many others.

Sometimes people who exercise undue influence start off as a caretaker, who genuinely seems to care for the individual.  As time progresses, however, they are able to convince the person no one else cares for them, resulting in the individual becoming totally dependent on the caretaker.  As in the example with Mickey Rooney, his wife and stepchildren drained his estate of millions of dollars during his lifetime.  I am aware of a case in which a younger, attractive caregiver convinced her elderly patient she cared for him emotionally, and then convinced him to add her to his deed for his personal residence.  She also received numerous financial gifts.  Unfortunately, the money was much more important to her than caring for the individual she was hired to help.  She moved on once the money was  gone, leaving the elderly individual and the family to try and pick up the pieces.

So what can you do?  An elderly person’s family, friends and neighbors should make efforts to insure the person is receiving good nutrition, help them stay socially involved, and be observant for signs someone is attempting to control that person for their own gain.  If you suspect an elderly person is a victim of undue influence, put all details of the transaction, including names, dates and facts in writing.  You can contact Adult Protective Services in your area which will begin an investigation.  This may prevent the elderly person from losing any more money and help him regain his dignity.

A proactive approach in this situation is to meet with a qualified estate planning attorney to guide the individual through the estate planning process which may help avoid some of the pitfalls of undue influence that can arise from caregivers, friends, family and others.

The Mickey Rooney matter continues.  His estate was awarded millions from the stepfamily but whether that will be collected remains to be seen.

JensenBayles, LLP provides a broad spectrum of legal services.  Thomas J. Bayles has been actively providing advice in the areas of trusts, wills, probate and tax planning in the St. George market for over 18 years. Please visit our web site or call 435-674-9718 and ask for Thomas J. Bayles.  The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice. Please contact an attorney for legal advice specific to your situation.

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