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By: Scott Grossman on November 2nd, 2017

Coercion in Trusts: Why Trusts Get Attacked, Part 1

The weeks and months after losing a loved one are difficult enough under normal circumstances. When you aren’t sure if the arrangements made for the distribution of her estate match her intentions, it can leave you dealing with additional layers of confusion and anger which in turn leads to coercion in trust issues.

In the first part of this series, which deals with the most common problems we see in trusts that often lead to litigation and contests, we’ll talk about coercion.

What is Coercion?

Coercion is a form of undue influence. According to California law, undue influence is limiting someone’s freedom of choice by doing at least one of the following:

  • Using one’s authority or perceived authority over someone for personal gain
  • Exploiting someone’s weakness of mind
  • Bullying or pressuring someone through their vulnerabilities or needs

Examples of situations where coercion in trust was used to manipulate the person include:

  • A sibling using guilt to pressure his or her parents into leaving a larger share of the estate
  • A person threatening to cut off necessary support to an ailing testator if he/she does not give larger inheritance.
  • Creating a hostile environment for the testator, badgering and arguing until he or she changes the terms of the trust.
  • Telling lies about/controlling contact with another relative to trick the testator into cutting that person out of the trust.
  • Playing on the testator’s unstable mental state, intentionally confusing the testator to get more assets out of the trust

It is possible that a testator may have been subject to coercion without suffering from cognitive or mental health issues; coercion and mental incompetence are not mutually exclusive conditions.

In court, it is generally easier to prove coercion if someone is also mentally incompetent. However, someone can be generally mentally competent but still vulnerable to coercion. This is especially true if the person coercing him or her is someone him or her trusts. Remember: A person who is vulnerable to undue influence may struggle to remember things and need help in dealing with daily functions. That doesn’t mean they are mentally incompetent.

Because undue influence is a serious allegation, you will need strong evidence to back it up in court. It is in your best interests to discuss your concerns with an attorney skilled in California estate law before proceeding with a charge of this nature.

Are you a beneficiary or trustee involved in a trust administration case where coercion or undue influence may have blurred the intentions of your loved one?

The Southern California trust lawyers at The Grossman Law Firm offer Southern California trust litigation, probate litigation, will contests, and probate services. Schedule a free case review today by calling 888-443-6590 or click here.

Be sure to order your copy of Scott Grossman’s essential book, Winning The Inheritance Battle: The Ultimate Guide To California Trust And Probate Litigation, which is available to you FREE.