Berger was advised to challenge her father’s will not on grounds of “undue influence” but under a section of the B.C. Wills Variation Act that says a “judicious parent” bears a responsibility to provide for biological sons and daughters even if they’re adults.
Vancouver lawyer Trevor Todd who wasn’t involved in this case but writes and lectures on estate issues, says coercion is difficult for family members to prove. If they fail, they’ll usually be stuck with the costs.
Nevertheless, he’s seen a big increase in “undue influence” allegations.
‘I have to warn [elderly men], sometimes that if they lose their wife, they’re just a sitting duck,’ says Todd. “They’re going to be besieged by a lot of well-intentioned women and a whole lot of other women who really are looking for financial gain. They come out of the woodwork and they throw a little bit of sex at the old guy and the next thing you know he’s off his rocker.”
Todd says he’s also heard accusations of health-care professionals taking gifts and bequests from elderly patients. He dealt with one recently in which a woman made a “substantial gift” to her doctor’s wife.
“Her own children reported it to the B.C. Medical Association and that doctor was hauled up on the carpet and he gave it all back,” says Todd. “He gave it back so fast it made your head spin.”
Todd tells his clients to be alert to the early signs of gold-digger syndrome.
“It’s all done on the quiet,” he says. “It’s done by people who have a grand design. They change the locks, the dad’s never available to answer the phone, they estrange people, they speak for them all the time. They deny access to medical [treatment].
They give them lots of medications. They threaten to put them in a home and tell [the elderly person] if it wasn’t for them they’d already be in a home. I could write a book on how to do it. But how to prove it? There are never any witnesses.”
He says some clients use private investigators. He advises others to keep records, to write letters to doctors and other health officials and to document visits, phone calls and financial transactions.
– The Province