To Catch a Thief- How to Prevent Inheritance Theft

When you create a will or estate plan you may assume that your money will go to the intended heirs. But inheritance theft can happen right in front of your heirs, and the thieves will probably get away with it if the proper measures aren’t put into place to stop them. Since the thieves are usually family members, the fallout is not only about money, but also previous family tensions.

Here is what you need to know about the problem of inheritance theft, and how you can protect yourself and your heirs from inheritance thieves:

Forms of Inheritance Hijacking

Inheritance hijacking takes many forms, including outright theft. It is not unusual for valuables such as antiques or jewelry, to disappear from your home after you die. Missing items could have been taken by a stranger breaking into your home, or even someone close to you. A family member may want to grab a treasured item before someone else gets the chance. Even an in-home caregiver could take valuable items as a sort of do-it-yourself severance payment.

Denigration of fellow heirs is a frequent tactic used to increase an inheritance. Sometimes heirs are so focused on what they can do to increase their chunk of estate that they forget about the bond they have with their fellow heirs. One may lie about the other heirs, claiming that one sibling cannot be trusted with money, and make false promises. This kind of talk can persuade you to change your will in favor of the lying heir.

Undocumented loans are another type of inheritance hijacking. Family and friends who borrow money from you may say that the money was a gift. If there is no loan document in place, the heirs have no recourse to get the money back from the borrower on your behalf. The only way to protect your heirs from this tactic is to insist on loan documents whenever you loan out a large chunk of change.

Heirs or advisors might also prepare a fake will or amendment to a real will, giving the forger a larger piece of estate. For example, if you leave a larger piece of your estate to one heir, and another sibling destroys the will, then you would be considered to have died “intestate”. If this happens, your money would be distributed equally between your children.

Protecting Your Estate

If you take certain steps while preparing your will, you can greatly increase the odds that your assets will reach the intended heirs. A will or estate-plan document you prepare yourself is more likely to be successfully contested than those created by an experienced estate-planning attorney.

Discussing your estate plan with your entire family present will ensure everyone is on the same page. If the whole family knows about your assets and how you intend to divide them, it is much more difficult for any lying, arguing, or confusion to happen.

Appointing two executors to your estate will minimize the chance of your executor taking advantage of their position. Make one of the two executors a non-family professional, such as a trust company, a financial planner, or an attorney.

Another way to ensure that there is no inheritance theft involved is to give assets to your heirs before your will goes into effect. Another benefit of this tactic is that you will be able to see your heirs enjoy the gifts you have given them.

Insist that your executors share details with all of your beneficiaries about the estate’s expenses, assets, and financial transfers. Your estate-planning attorney can write this requirement into your will. This requirement makes it harder for an executor to hide theft.

It’s important to also reconsider your estate plan before you get remarried. You may assume that your spouse will treat the children from your first marriage fairly during the estate-distribution process. In reality, your intended heirs may receive a much smaller share of the estate than you intended, or even nothing at all. The new spouse or the new spouses’ heirs may put their own financial interests first.

Our California estate planning attorneys help clients in Oxnard and the surrounding areas of Ventura County with a complete range of trust and estate services. We can help you figure out the best course of action for your estate and create a legally valid plan under California law. Call Lowthorp, Richards, McMillan, Miller & Templeman, APC today at (805) 981-8555 or contact us online for more information.