The week of April 11, 2016 was “Make a Will Week” in British Columbia. In an effort to highlight the importance of ensuring that a will accurately reflects the testator’s true wishes and does not arise out of undue influence, the British Columbia Law Institute (BCLI) recirculated its Recommended Practices for Wills Practitioners Relating to Potential Undue Influence: A Guide. The Guide covers everything from definitions to red flags to recommended best practices in screening for undue influence.
The Guide’s authors are careful to point out that, while undue influence is often intertwined with the question of whether an individual possesses the requisite capacity to make a will, the presence of capacity does not negate the possibility of undue influence. Indeed, throughout the Guide there appears to be a clear acknowledgment of the notion that each testator’s particular circumstances are unique. Accordingly, the Guide’s approach is nuanced, covering a broad array of potential red flags for estates practitioners that range from marked changes in instructions from prior wills to simply having a “gut feeling” that undue influence may be present.
Included in the BCLI’s Guide is a four-page Reference Aid that seeks to assist practitioners with recognizing and preventing undue influence. Containing a list of red flags and a flow chart, the Reference Aid constitutes a direct means of ensuring that the possibility of undue influence has been canvassed. While a thorough understanding of the potential precursors, definitions, signs and consequences of undue influence is undeniably an important aspect of any estate practitioner’s professional toolkit, reliance on a concise and well organized Reference Aid may help those practitioners confronted with more urgent scenarios, and can serve as a key reminder of the important material contained in the Guide.