Inheritance theft, a term synonymous with probate fraud, death fraud, or family fraud, has emerged as one of the fastest-growing forms of fraud in our agency. This insidious act often occurs when a family member, typically an older relative like a grandfather or great-grandfather, passes away, leaving behind a trail of assets—homes, bank accounts, vehicles, and more. What unfolds next is a sinister web of deception as certain relatives attempt to claim a larger share of these assets than rightfully belongs to them.

Understanding Inheritance Theft

In the aftermath of a family member’s death, assets undergo a distribution process, either guided by a formal will or through probate. This distribution should ideally adhere to the wishes of the deceased, ensuring a fair and just apportionment. However, inheritance theft rears its ugly head when certain family members manipulate this process for personal gain.

The tactics employed in inheritance theft can be varied and cunning. Relatives might siphon money from bank accounts, transfer vehicles, deed properties to themselves, or even attempt to conceal the deceased’s ownership of certain assets. In cases where a relative lives far away, those in close proximity may exploit the situation to hide assets successfully.

Sometimes, inheritance theft takes a preemptive turn, with a family member seizing assets before the person’s demise or before the probate process unfolds. This complex and often clandestine act demands a meticulous investigation to expose the truth.

Investigating Probate Fraud and Inheritance Theft

To counteract inheritance theft, a strategic and thorough investigation is crucial. Here are the key steps involved:

  1. Asset Search and Forensics: The initial step is to conduct a comprehensive asset search and forensics that spans the timeline around the individual’s death. This entails examining the flow of assets to detect any fraudulent conveyances—instances where assets are illegitimately transferred or concealed.
  2. Executor Scrutiny: If a family member serves as the executor of the estate, their actions come under intense scrutiny. Any improper handling of assets can lead to serious consequences, including criminal charges in some states.
  3. Paper Trail Analysis: A meticulous examination of documents related to bank accounts, real estate, insurance policies, investments, and other assets can reveal inconsistencies and hidden transfers. The paper trail left by these transactions is often the key to exposing inheritance theft.

Protecting Yourself Against Inheritance Theft

If you suspect or fall victim to inheritance theft, taking proactive steps is crucial:

  1. Asset Inventory: Compile a thorough inventory of all assets owned by the deceased. Avoid assumptions and delve into less obvious assets like 401(k) funds or retirement accounts.
  2. Legal Guidance: Seek legal advice to navigate the complexities of inheritance theft. Involving an attorney can be instrumental in ensuring your rights are protected.
  3. Asset Search: Conduct a comprehensive asset search to unearth any attempts at concealment. This proactive approach can uncover hidden assets and strengthen your case.
  4. Principle and Justice: Even if the financial impact may not be substantial, uncovering inheritance theft is a matter of principle. Knowing if a family member is acting against your best interests can influence future interactions.

In the face of inheritance theft, vigilance and a proactive stance are your strongest allies. By unraveling the complexities of asset concealment and fraudulent conveyances, you not only reclaim what is rightfully yours but also uphold justice within your family. In the pursuit of truth, transparency, and fairness, inheritance theft can be exposed and rectified, fostering a stronger foundation for familial trust and integrity.