Inheritance theft is a prevalent form of fraud that we encounter frequently in our agency. What exactly is inheritance theft? It is also known as probate fraud, death fraud, or family fraud. Typically, when a family member, usually an older relative like a grandfather or great-grandfather, passes away, certain assets, such as their home, bank accounts, and vehicles are distributed to the family. This distribution process may occur through a formal will or probate. However, in many cases, some family members attempt to take more than their fair share of the assets during the distribution process. They may withdraw money from the deceased person’s bank account, transfer vehicles, or even deed a property over to themselves. They may also try to conceal the existence of these assets from other family members, especially those who are far away or out of town. Sometimes, a family member may take an asset before the person even passes away or before the probate process begins.
So, how do you investigate probate fraud or inheritance theft?
The first step in investigating probate fraud or inheritance theft is to conduct a thorough asset search and asset forensics investigation that goes back in time. This helps to identify any transfers of assets that occurred around the time of the person’s death. This is known as a flow of assets, and it helps to ensure that there are no fraudulent conveyances, which is when someone takes an asset and transfers it improperly to themselves or someone else.
Often, these assets are hidden, such as a secret bank account, a vehicle that no one knew was owned, or real estate that was transferred to a family member. If the estate executor is a family member, they may even do something improper with the handling of the estate. If an executor does something wrong, it is considered a crime, which is worse than simply transferring an asset away improperly.
If you are a victim of inheritance theft or probate fraud, you should first obtain a good inventory of the assets and verify what is owned. Don’t assume you know everything about the deceased person’s assets because they may have accumulated assets in 401k funds, retirement funds, or other brokerage accounts that you are unaware of.
It’s crucial to thoroughly examine all the assets as they leave a paper trail. Usually, those who get away with stealing assets do so because nobody bothers to look. As a family member, if you investigate all the assets, you can easily catch any fraudulent activity. You can then take legal action to recover those assets, ask the court to impose penalties, or request a larger share of the assets transferred to you, and even get legal costs reimbursed for the time and effort put into finding those assets.
If you are a victim of inheritance theft or are just suspicious of potential fraud surrounding someone’s death, it’s crucial to get a good handle on the assets and seek legal advice if necessary. Consider involving an attorney to help with the situation.
Additionally, conducting a thorough asset search and inventory is essential to identify any fraudulent activity. Doing so can help ensure that no one is attempting to steal assets from the estate. Even if you don’t necessarily need the money, it’s a matter of principle to ensure that all assets are distributed fairly and honestly among family members.
Moreover, knowing if a family member is doing something that isn’t in your best interest is important. This knowledge can significantly impact how you interact with them in the future. Therefore, getting a clear understanding of the assets and detecting any potential fraud is vital.
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