Who could commit probate fraud?
A relative is often named as an executor in probate. They are in a position to commit fraud because they have access to the deceased’s property and paperwork. It is sometimes the case that the executor may have a sense of entitlement to the assets in the property that aren’t satisfied by the will or the rules of intestacy. They may also have a grievance with certain family members.
Carers are placed in a position of great responsibility, as the deceased can often be in a vulnerable position before death. There have been numerous cases of carers scamming elderly and ill people of their life savings either through theft or pressuring them to change the will.
It is quite common for someone who has been granted an enduring or lasting power of attorney to be accused of mismanaging funds during the deceased’s lifetime.
Scam warning signs
Here are some things to look out for if you are worried about probate fraud.
- Abrupt changes to the will or unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts made not long before death;
- The transfer of large sums of money or property, or the disappearance of valuable items;
- The inclusion of someone else’s name on a bank account;
- A relative or friend who assumes the management of the person’s finances but leaves bills unpaid;
- Someone who is anxious and confused about his or her finances.
You should analyse any evidence you receive and consider it carefully, rather than simply reading it and accepting it without question.
One of the best methods to notice fraud is to simply follow your instinct. If something doesn’t seem correct, explore it.
It is important to be discreet when following up suspicions, and not to accuse anyone of fraud without evidence to back it up. The vast majority of probate matters are dealt with fairly and honestly. Sometimes there are perfectly rational explanations for things seem suspicious, as well as simple genuine human mistakes.
What to do if you are suspicious
- Acquire copies of all previous wills;
- Acquire copies of the will notes
- Discover who witnessed the will and consider whether statements can be taken from these people;
- Discover if the will was explained properly to the deceased;
- Discover where the will was executed;
- Find details of deceased’s physician/hospital/care home and acquire medical record from them;
- Acquire a copy of the will of the deceased’s spouse/civil partner if applicable.
A forged will is generally one that was made without the deceased’s knowledge – however, a will could also be considered fraudulent if a signature on it is forged, even if the deceased created it.
Forged wills can arise from family problems, as can other kinds of disputed wills. However, there have also been cases where fraudsters have targeted isolated elderly people with no close relatives or friends in order to gather the knowledge required to falsify a will in their name. In these situations there may be nobody to challenge the will or make a claim regarding the true wishes of the deceased.
Forgery of a will is notoriously hard to prove in court.
Forgery of a will is notoriously hard to prove in court, and is usually combined with an allegation of no knowledge or approval.
Generally those cases which are won rely on the testimony of a handwriting expert who has found discrepancies between the signature on the will and the actual signature of the deceased. As ever, though, showing that the will contradicts wishes expressed by the deceased elsewhere can also be useful as evidence.
An unfortunate side-effect of proving a forged Will is that the fraudsters may still receive a share of the estate if they are related to the deceased. This is because in many cases, the invalidation of a will which is proven to be forged leads to the deceased being declared intestate, meaning that the intestacy rules apply.
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