In a case that is sad to read, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled last week that a mail carrier unduly influenced an old lady on her mail route into changing her will to name the mail carrier as her heir - and disinheriting her family.
In the case of In re Estate of Barnes, financially struggling mail carrier Michelle Wells got to know Eva Barnes as one of the people on her mail route. Among other disturbing statements, the court recited the trial court's findings that:
"Barnes' increasing dependence on Wells coincided with Barnes' estrangement from her family and that Wells made numerous false statements that 'fanned the flame' of Barnes'unfounded anger and mistrust of the [her family]."
"After Wells became more involved in her life, Barnes began writing checks to Wells and Wells' family members for various services and expenses. Just days before Barnes passed away, Wells paid her own mortgage with a check issued from Barnes' personal bank account. Barnes was in or close to being in a coma when Wells wrote this check. The check posted on the same day that Barnes passed away."
The State Supreme Court held that the will was invalid because of undue influence. This result ensures that Eva's property will be inherited by her family members. However, it cannot restore the relationship between theh late Eva Barnes and her estranged family.
So how can you protect your elderly loved ones from this type of situation? Here are some easy steps:
1. Have a good set of estate planning documents in place. These documents should include, for those without a taxable estate, a will, a durable power of attorney, a power of attorney for health care decisions, a directive to physicians, and a HIPPA directive.
2. Be active in your elderly relative's life. Treat your elderly family members with genuine love an concern. If you are active in your elderly relative's life, you are more likely to know about the influence of someone (often another family member).
3. If you suspect any wrongdoing or efforts to influence your elderly relative, seek advice from a lawyer with experience dealing with the Washington State Vulnerable Adult Act. If your elderly relative is vulerable to undue influence, an experienced attorney can protect them from being unduly influenced.
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