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Inheritance theft: More common than you might think

On Behalf of | Oct 15, 2020 | estate administration & probate |

After a loved one dies, you might think that it would be obvious if someone tried to take something from the estate that your deceased family member didn’t intend for them to have. However, many common forms of inheritance theft aren’t obvious and largely go unreported.

Inheritance theft can include anything from manipulating someone to draft or change their will to reflect something other than their wishes to outright theft from their home and accounts and embezzlement by a trustee or executor after they’ve passed away.

Let’s look at some examples of inheritance theft that can be particularly difficult to prove or even recognize.

Undocumented loans

Perhaps your deceased mother lent your cousin $10,000 to help him start a business. He agreed to pay it back. However, they never drew up any documentation because it was “between family.” Now, when you asked him for the money, he says your mom ended up telling him it was a gift. You seriously doubt that’s true, but you probably can’t prove it.

Denigrating heirs

Maybe your sister was closer to your mom in her latter days than you were. She took that opportunity to tell her that she thought leaving the two of you an equal share of the inheritance was unwise because you’d become very careless with money. Whether that was true or not, your mother believed it and thought she was doing you a favor by changing her will to leave you less.

Destroying or forging documents

It’s not uncommon for more than one will to surface after a person dies. Unfortunately, a will or other estate plan document that seems to have been drawn up after the original plan was put in place could be something that your loved one was tricked or manipulated in to signing – or their signature could have been forged on it. Maybe the will you knew your loved one drew up seems to have disappeared.

Transparency and communication are two keys to preventing inheritance theft. That’s why people should be open with their loved ones about at least the broad outlines of their estate plan. Having an estate planning attorney who is involved in any changes to the documents over the years is also important. However, if your loved one has passed away and you believe that some form of inheritance theft has occurred, it’s wise to find out what legal options you have.