In a recent decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals in the case In re Cederquist Revocable Trust, a caregiver hired to care for an elderly man was allowed to keep his IRA after he died, because he had made her the primary beneficiary of the account before he passed.
The decedent’s children alleged that the caregiver used undue influence to get their father to name her the beneficiary of his IRA, but the court disagreed. It found that the caregiver did not unduly influence the decedent to name her the primary beneficiary of his retirement account because there was no evidence she made any misrepresentations that “poisoned the decedent’s mind”. Interestingly, the court did acknowledge that there was evidence that the caregiver had “schemed” to turn the decedent against his children and that his relationship with them deteriorated after she began caring for him. But the court held that the “mere poisoning of decedent’s mind in this case is insufficient; there must also be evidence that Rowan made misrepresentations that poisoned decedent’s mind”.
The court seems to be saying that as long as a caregiver doesn’t lie and make misrepresentations about an elderly person’s family, influencing them to name the caregiver the beneficiary of assets will be upheld. This case is a demonstration of the court balancing a person’s right to exercise free will when deciding how to dispose of his or her assets upon death, and the interests of the family and the public of protecting vulnerable adults from being taken advantage of or compelled to give their assets to someone.
What actions can a family take to protect against a caregiver that would scheme and poison an elderly parent against his or her family? Stay involved in your elderly parent’s life. If you are around regularly, you will be better able to detect this type of behavior and curtail the relationship before any damage is done.
If you think someone unduly influenced a parent or loved one to change their estate plan or caused your parent to change their estate plan when they lacked the mental capacity to do so, call me so we can evaluate your facts in greater detail.