UNPACKING UNDUE INFLUENCE
By Mary Joy Quinn
When I went to work for San Francisco Superior Court in the Probate Department, I had much to learn. My previous work as an operating room nurse, public health nurse and gerontologist had not prepared me for immersion in the judicial system. And yet, the work of a conservatorship investigator was decidedly related because the work involved interviewing elders wherever they were living, contacting their families and friends and the professionals with whom they were involved: attorneys, physicians, adult protective services staff, accountants, clergy, bank personnel, and others. The differences were adherence to law and writing reports for the judge to review and to base decisions upon.
The probate law provided structure and direction. However, there was one term that was most mysterious and murky: undue influence. There was no definition of it in the Probate Code and yet it was mentioned more than 25 times in various contexts: marriage, gifts, conservatorship of estate, powers of attorney, trusts, wills. Some observers have subjectively noted, “It’s like pornography. I know it when I see it.”
Some observers have noted, “It's like pornography. I know it when I see it.”