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Don't let undue influence derail a loved one's true estate plans

A will is generally viewed as a final chance for people to provide support for the people and causes they cared about while living. Significant time and attention may be dedicated to creating a robust, clear and accurate estate plan to minimize ambiguity. Leaving loose ends or room for doubt in regard to personal intentions can create complications for beneficiaries or individuals who feel they were wrongfully left out of a will.

In approaching the end of life, many people are unfortunately forced to deal with serious health problems. Friends, relatives or associates may step up to the plate and provide care during this difficult time.

While a person is in a fragile physical or mental state, however, there is always a chance that caretakers may use their position to take advantage of an ailing person. As a result of this arrangement, influence can be exerted to change a will in favor or against certain parties.

Those who believe that undue influence has been exercised in the creation or revision of a will may be able to pursue legal action. For instance, there is a major case involving the relatives of Robert Cohen, who is best known for founding the Hudson News retail chain.

A woman, who is Cohen’s niece, believes that her uncle's will was unfairly changed. She claims that her uncle’s son, who was co-owner of the business, exerted his influence over his father to benefit himself while squeezing other relatives out of the will. The younger Cohen denies his relative’s assertions.

This is a headline-grabbing example of what can happen to Michigan families. Of course, using undue influence to push a person into changing their estate plan could establish grounds for a will contest.

By taking time to examine the nature of changes made to a will, it may become apparent that someone abused their position of trust and authority. If this is the case, it may be possible to restore the true wishes of the testator by taking thoughtful action in accordance with Michigan estate law.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "Robert Cohen's son says he played no role in changes to patriarch's wills," Kibret Markos, March 11, 2014

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