What is Undue Influence Anyway?

When “Frank” died in 2011, he left his house to his common law wife. She had cared for him until his death. His son and daughter-in-law were shocked. They expected to inherit the house. While their relationship had been strained, recently they had reconciled. They accused his new wife of undue influence. 

The court decided otherwise. With no proof the wife had exerted “outright and overpowering coercion,” his family lost their case.

But what is undue influence and why does it matter?

Are You Being Unduly Influenced?

Forcing someone to do what you want by overpowering their will or judgment is undue influence. It can include:

  • constant verbal pressure
  • flattery, trickery or deception
  • taking assets or money
  • shaming or using moral force
  • imposing your wishes on another.

It becomes coercion if threats occur. Blackmail, using or threatening violence, harming friends or family members or taking property by force are coercion. 

Who is at Risk of Undue Influence

Victims can be elderly or ill, young, financially dependent or feel unable to speak up. Some families, cultures or religions use shunning to force others to do their bidding. The “influencer” may have unnatural power or authority over their victim. 

What Canadian Courts Say About Shunning 

Imagine growing up in a world where your beliefs, dress and even hairstyle are dictated by your elders. When young people seek their freedom or members do something the group disapproves of, they may be emotionally or physically ousted. Randy, a Canadian realtor who lost business after being expelled from his church, took his case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The court ruled against interfering in disputes between private religious parties. As his case shows, breaking free from the influence of others can be difficult. 

Five Signs of Undue Influence

You believe undue influence may be occurring. Here are five telltale signs:

  1. You are told an elderly parent refuses to see you.
  2. Their will is changed to leave you out.
  3. They choose staying with an abuser over assisted living.
  4. They dress poorly, despite having ample savings.
  5. You know a church member is struggling, but they avoid talking to you.

How Influencers Manipulate

Isolating someone by stopping them from communicating with others is a common tactic for abusers. They may tell the victim their relatives only want their money. They plant seeds of doubt that family members are uncaring or turned down an invitation to visit. 

Abusers can also convince seniors they are no longer capable of managing their own money. Getting a senior to agree to a power of attorney for property can allow an abuser to cash their pension or remove money from a bank account. 

Influencers can exert power over anyone who is vulnerable. Many victims are unaware they are being manipulated or too embarrassed to ask for help.

Stop Undue Influence or Elder Abuse

Fortunately, a marital or business contract, deed, donation or will can be set aside if you can prove undue influence.

Say you are at the reading of your husband’s will (a “testamontory” act). You separated a while ago, but never divorced. Suddenly, you realize he left most of his estate to a friend. You shake your head in disbelief. You have his old will, before he met this overbearing friend. Now it is up to you to prove the friend tricked, deceived or otherwise unduly influenced him. 

Sibling rivalry is another story. If a sibling objects to gifts your father left you while he was alive (called “inter vivos”), the onus is on you to prove he planned for you to have them all along.

Where a Virtual Notary Can Help

When you use Axess Law’s Ontario virtual notaries, they are on the alert for undue influence. Their legal obligations require it.

A virtual notary uses video conference calls to review and e-sign documents for you. They check who is in the room during a remote commissioning video call. They might even ask you to pan the room with your webcam and identify everyone present. They could ask third parties to leave during the call. They also watch for verbal cues the person signing is uncomfortable. They listen to language to see if it is aggressive or disrespectful.

A notary can be called on in court to explain your wishes. That makes it even more important that notaries who use virtual commissioning can say for a fact that no undue influence or coercion occurred.

Convenient Day or Evening Appointments

Axess Law offers virtual notary services seven days a week, at your convenience. Call ahead to set up a time, day or evening, for your video call. Our remote notary will make an appointment, send you an email link to the call and email documents for signing. You get a final copy to print and keep.

Book an In Person or Virtual Visit

To get started, call Axess Law toll-free at 877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto at 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form. Let us know if you prefer to meet in person, by phone or video conference call. Our Ontario law offices are open at times convenient for your schedule.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s notary public services.