Perhaps you might have a relative or someone closely connected to your family who has recently passed away. There’s a possibility that someone could attempt to misappropriate your inheritance money. Whenever there’s a death or even a person falling ill and entering hospice, or even before illness, especially among the elderly, some individuals may see this as an opportunity to transfer assets to their advantage inappropriately.

When an older person passes away, it often involves assets being added to an estate—bank accounts, real estate, insurance, stocks, and other types of assets. In cases where a person is known to be nearing death or is already deceased, greedy individuals may start transferring assets from that person and placing them under their own name. This practice is referred to as probate fraud. This issue is more prevalent than most people realize.

The process is as follows: when an estate is distributed following a person’s death, the estate executor can only distribute what they are informed about in terms of assets. Insiders, often family members, attorneys, accountants, or business partners, may recognize an opportunity to transfer or hide assets before the person’s passing, attempting to gain ownership improperly. This maneuver allows them to potentially steal these assets.

One recent conversation with a client sheds light on this issue. The client had four siblings—two brothers and a sister. Their mother passed away a year ago, while their father had died a decade earlier. During their upbringing, the family had been reasonably comfortable. They owned their house outright, possessed valuable stocks purchased decades ago, and had significant funds in their bank accounts. However, upon investigation, it was discovered that assets were being covertly transferred.

For example, one sister, considered well-off, encouraged her parents not to include her in their will, as she already had substantial wealth. Another sister, who was struggling financially, began hiding and transferring assets, making it appear as if there were no significant assets left in the estate. Upon thorough investigation, it turned out that around $800,000 worth of assets had been wrongfully transferred to the struggling sister. This kind of improper transfer is referred to as a fraudulent conveyance.

What steps can you take if you suspect such activities? Firstly, conducting an asset search is essential to identify the true assets of the deceased and the person suspected of improper transfers. Asset tracing, which examines the movement of funds, provides insight into the origins of these assets. Seeking legal advice from a qualified attorney, ensuring the trustee or estate executor has a complete list of assets, and promoting transparency within the family can safeguard against such fraudulent activities.

While it may be uncomfortable to address these issues, knowing the truth about possible asset misappropriation is crucial for informed decision-making, both emotionally and financially. By respecting the wishes outlined in the will, you honor the deceased person’s intentions. This may involve distributing assets according to the will and then providing additional support to the intended recipient, should you choose to do so.

In summary, probate fraud is a significant concern in cases of inheritance. Preventing it involves vigilance, transparency, and seeking professional advice to safeguard the assets and intentions of your loved ones.

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