Among our greatest challenges as a nation
today is making America a safe place
to grow old
.”  — Lisa Nerenberg

Learn About Elder Abuse

Undue Influence

The "discovery" of undue influence as a significant factor in elder abuse has revolutionized thinking about how people fall prey to "artful manipulators" and what service providers can do help prevent exploitive relationships. The resources on this page provide an overview of undue influence and how it is being addressed by the criminal and civil justice systems.

Resources on Undue Influence

  • Undue Influence: An Insidious Form of Elder Abuse. January 10, 2013. Posting on NYC Elder Abuse Center’s Elder Justice Dispatch Blog.
  • Hornswoggled? An interview with Margaret Singer on undue influence. I interviewed Margaret Singer, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and emeritus adjunct professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1996 for nexus, a publication of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA). Dr. Singer was a nationally renowned expert on cults, brainwashing, persuasion, and undue influence.
  • Undue Influence and Written Documents: Psychological Aspects. This article by Margaret Singer was originally printed in the Journal of Questioned Document Examination, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1992, the official publication of the Independent Association of Questioned Document Examiners, Inc. It is reprinted on the website of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA). In it, Dr. Singer describes social influence techniques, tactics of thought reform, and responses and behavior found in other high-control, intense influence situations ranging from the Stockholm syndrome to abused women and the methods of corrupt caretakers. The case of the "evil nurse" is discussed to illustrate these factors. In addition the following conditions of influence are discussed in their relationship to undue influence: isolation, creating a siege mentality, dependency, sense of powerlessness, sense of fear and vulnerability, and being kept unaware.
  • A Loss for the Family Field: The Death of Margaret T. Singer. This collection of brief tributes to Margaret Singer appears on the website of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA)
  • Undue Influence in Contract and Probate Law. The article by Abraham Nievod, Ph.D., J.D of San Francisco was originally printed in the Journal of Questioned Document Examination, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1992, the official publication of the Independent Association of Questioned Document Examiners, Inc. It is reprinted on the website of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA).This article outlines the history of undue influence and the law, definitions of undue influence, judicial considerations in deciding undue influence cases, and the types of cases in which document examiners may be called upon to testify. Undue influence cases most commonly appear in contract or probate law. Undue influence cases may occur in relationships based upon trust and confidence, family members or friends, or within the context of totalistic groups.
  • Psychological Aspects of Undue Influence. This article by Ira Daniel Turkat, a psychologist who has served on the faculty at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and the University of Florida College of Medicine, is on the website of the American Bar Association. In it, Dr. Trukat describes how undue influence usurps people’s free will and presents a model for understanding the psychological variables that can produce the improper substitution of one person’s will for that of another.
  • Can a Science of Social Influence Be Used to Stop Economic Fraud Crimes? This article by Anthony Pratkanis, an experimental social psychologist and the founding editor of a new academic journal, Social Influence is based on testimony before the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging on July 27, 2005. It appears on APA (American Psychological Association) Online.
  • Hall, R. C., Hall, R. C., & ;13(2):, M. J. C. (2005). Exploitation of the elderly: Undue influence as a form of elder abuse. Clinical Geriatrics, 13(2), 28-36 [PDF:93kb]
  • Naimark, D. (2001). Financial exploitation of the elderly: The evaluation of mental capacity and undue influence. American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 22(3), 5-19
  • Quinn, M. J. (2002). Undue influence and elder abuse: Recognition and intervention strategies. Geriatric Nursing, 23(1), 11-16


  • Bennett Blum, M.D., is a physician specializing in forensic and geriatric psychiatry. His website, provides information on mental capacity and undue influence and tools that he has developed for evaluating them.

From My Blog:

  • Getting Our Minds (and Laws) Around Undue Influence. Friday, October 31, 2008. Undue influence. We know it when we see it, and those of us in elder abuse prevention see it often: elders who are ill, lonesome, isolated, impaired, or grieving being persuaded to give away assets, sometimes homes and life savings, to new acquaintances, suitors, family members, or even cunning cons in other countries. They use various devices--trust documents, powers of attorney, wills, sweepstake offers, bogus charities, or quickie marriages--but the results are the same: getting vulnerable elders to do things they wouldn’t have done otherwise. Read more…
  • Undue Influence: There Oughta be a Law (or Two). Monday, March 24, 2008. When undue influence was “discovered” as a significant factor in elder abuse a decade ago, it immediately struck a chord with advocates and service providers who'd been seeing the phenomenon for years. They may not have had a term for it, but they knew it when they saw it. But translating undue influence into law, or more specifically, translating it into an infraction of the law, hasn’t been Read more…
  • PPS on Undue Influence: The Civil Side (December 14, 2006)
    For the season of giving...
    Caregivers in California who receive last-minute bequests from those they care for are presumed to have exercised undue influence, even if they were close friends. That’s because of a controversial 1993 law that was recently upheld on appeal (Bernard v. Foley). Probate Code Section 21350 was enacted following a scandal that involved an estate-planning attorney who named himself and his family as fiduciaries for, and beneficiaries of, clients’ estates. To see the full post, click on PPS on Undue Influence: The Civil Side.
  • Postscript on Undue Influence is Not a Crime (December 04, 2006)
    Last week, Melissa McKowan, prosecutor in the undue influence case I described in my last post, told me that the California Supreme Court has denied a request to review the appellate court’s reversal, so the case can’t be retried. To see the full post, click on Postscript on Undue Influence is Not a Crime.
  • Undue Influence is Not a Crime (November 20, 2006)
    So said a California appeals court last month in ruling on the case of a 78-year-old San Mateo man who wrote over $660,000 in checks to a friend and helper. To see the full post, click on Undue Influence is Not a Crime.
  • Long Distance Undue Influence (June 20, 2006)
    Last week, San Diego prosecutor Paul Greenwood posted a message to NCEA’s list serve about an “articulate, coherent and charming” elderly woman who’d sent over $50,000 to telemarketers in Canada despite being warned repeatedly that they were crooks. She described feeling “hypnotized.” It reminded me of when Dennis Morris, a San Francisco prosecutor, came to a meeting of our multidisciplinary team more than a decade ago and asked if anyone knew of an expert in brainwashing. To see the full post, click on Long Distance Undue Influence
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