Wills are there to protect a person's assets as well as to provide for heirs and beneficiaries. For many, the will gives them a chance to give orders and requests for the time following death.
Unfortunately, this legal document could be influenced by someone outside the family or intended heirs, causing trouble upon the elder's death. Here are three red flags to look for.
1. A new or unheard of party is listed in the will
The first thing that might trigger a concern about undue influence is if the will changed and now includes a new person whom you've never heard of or who only recently befriended your parent. It's possible that this new person manipulated or coerced your parent into changing his or her will, so that the party would benefit from his or her death.
That's not to say that everyone in a will is going to be someone you know or that your parent doesn't have a right to add someone at the last minute. Keep in mind the person's relationship with your parent and the length of time it was known.
2. The will changed since your parent last updated you
If your parent regularly updated you on changes to the will, it's a good idea to look into any changes that happened since your last update. If you signed as a witness, for example, only a year ago but see a new witness and changes to the will in the newest form, you may wish to discuss what happened with your parent's attorney and then your own. There could be a party who influenced your loved one to change his or her will unexpectedly.
3. The will is not what you expected
The reality is that not every will is going to be what the heirs expect. For instance, a parent with a great deal of money may wish to make his or her heirs work for theirs, gifting a majority of the assets to charity instead of to the heirs. Likewise, a favored child might end up with more than the others despite doing less for the parent in his or her old age.
Keep in mind that this is relatively normal, but if there are changes that don't add up, you might want to take a closer look. For example, a child who hasn't spoken to a parent in 15 or 20 years may suddenly appear on the will, which would be unusual particularly if the parent was disowning or negative about the potential heir.
There are always ways for people to cause undue influence, and someone might try with a person you love. Keep an eye out for unusual changes to a will, and investigate them if they occur.