Twin Cities readers who have been following our discussions of financial exploitation may take interest in a recent story that demonstrates how the discovery of undue influence can lead to probate litigation. A recent decision concluded that a retired police officer exercised undue influence to goad an elderly woman into naming the officer as the sole beneficiary of her will. A Massachusetts probate court handed down the judgment in favor of the woman’s rightful heirs, and it should be noted that state of Minnesota has similar laws pertaining to undue influence on its books.
The executors of the woman’s estate initiated a will contest after discovering that the woman had significantly changed her end-of-life documents just eight months after signing a will naming her heirs. The executors of her estate showed that the deceased woman had written letters expressing her fear of the police officer, and she indicated that she was bothered by the officer’s efforts to coerce her into loaning him money.
The probate court invalidated the woman’s second will after finding that the police officer cashed several of her retirement checks before her death and forged the woman’s name to continue cashing checks after her death.
Court documents indicated that the man drained nearly $66,000 from the woman’s personal checking account in the seven months following her death.
Fortunately for the executors, the offending police officer owned property that may serve as a source of restitution to the estate. The court ordered the police officer to reimburse $81,000 to the woman’s estate and placed a $70,000 lien against the officer’s house.
Although the executors in this case succeeded in obtaining a judgment for the amount of money the police officer swindled out of the woman, financial exploitation often leaves heirs and beneficiaries with no recourse for recovering estate assets.
Minnesotans with elder loved ones should consider paying close attention when a family member mentions an unlikely friend asking for money. Early intervention may be the only way to head off financial exploitation and preserve estate assets.
Source: Eagle-Tribune, “Hale ordered to pay ‘Aunt Betty’ estate $81K,” Jill Harmacinski, April 8, 2012