What is Estate Planning Fraud?
An estate plan is a legal document stating your objective about your assets upon death. This is the sole responsibility of each individual, and any fraudulently executed estate plan will be invalid. In 2020, 13,600 people were victims of real estate scams; therefore, proper management of estate plans is crucial.
How Can Estate Planning Documents Become Fraudulent?
Fraud is an ongoing battle in many industries. Property is an essential societal asset in terms of wealth and redistribution. It is vital to be aware of a property’s history or the legal documents containing crucial ownership information. This usually demonstrates a timeline of previous transfers in ownership. Property history is instrumental in preventing irregularities or inheritance and property share disputes.
For example, a person cannot dispose of or sell a property that does not belong to them, so it’s essential to know the owner’s true identity. Documents can become fraudulent where, for example, people forge signatures, there is undue influence from another person, or if the deceased or testator creating the plan lacks capacity due to mental or physical incapacity.
If any beneficiary or interested party contests a will and changes its substance, it becomes a fraudulent document. The same is said if there is misinformation or errors in representation. Where there’s a fraud, documents can be voided – having no legal basis that gives rise to any rights.
Documents follow a specific procedure to be deemed valid. Suppose, at any stage, the records become intercepted or prevented from reaching a stage and altered. In that case, the paper is no longer an accurate representation of the deceased or testator’s wishes.
Identifying Estate Planning Fraud
Recognizing fraud can be challenging. Often, the property of an estate being put up for sale seems legit and may have good online reviews. In some instances, executors or administrators of estates ignore directions and misappropriate assets. Fraud exists when its elements are present. So, how can we identify these elements?
This is the first step to proving fraud. Fraud is often reflected as a misrepresentation, as people are usually tricked into believing something contrary to the actual state of affairs. A false representation can occur as a fake claim, such as lying that a beneficiary has been disinherited. In proving misrepresentation, the aggrieved party must confirm that the person doing the misrepresentation knew that this was false.
Sometimes, it would be substantial enough to prove that they should have known that a particular statement was false. For example, suppose Susan lies to your mother, stating that your mother will be signing the updated version of her estate when it’s, in fact, the older version. In that case, this is a misrepresentation in terms of the signed documentation.
In most areas of law, we have to prove intention. It’s not enough to say, Susan lied to your mother, and therefore the estate plan should be invalid. You have to show that Susan intended for your mother to alter the plan based on this misrepresented statement.
The intention is present if a person’s conduct desires a particular outcome and that person acts accordingly.
Coupled together with misrepresentation and intention is injury. To be successful in your claim, you would have to show that an injury occurred due to the intended misrepresentation. This is a particular injury in patrimony. Meaning, because there was an intentional misrepresentation, a potential beneficiary incurred a financial loss. For example, if the intended lie Susan told your mother allows Susan to inherit under the old estate plan and receive far less, you sustain a financial injury.
Preventing Estate Planning Fraud
However unpredictable and sporadic fraud may be, there are mechanisms to combat it.
- Investigate who you plan to handle your estate. You need to be confident in the estate attorney or company you are working with. Word-of-mouth or mere internet reviews won’t suffice.
- Keep your personal information to yourself. This is until you’re sure that you can trust an attorney or company with it.
- Be cautious of agreements that may appear “too good to be true.” Ensure that any company you wish to engage with is trustworthy and reputable.
- Ask about qualifications. You must be working with a professional; otherwise, your will can be deemed invalid. An estate planning attorney will adequately explain each step clearly and concisely. In saying such, avoid signing any documentation that you don’t understand.
- Purchase additional products carefully. If any fees are exorbitant, it might be a good indicator that further research is required. It is uncommon to pay upfront for certain costs – such as to an estate administrator. They are usually paid at the distribution of the estate.
- It is always best to obtain a second opinion from a legal professional if uncertainty lingers.
- Incapacitation hinders a person from acting in terms of the law. Any person performing a contractual duty must understand the rights, obligations, and responsibilities created by a will and the ensuing consequences.
- Reports of any suspicious activity must be directed to local officials who will handle the matter further.
Ask For Second Opinions
We are living in unpredictable times with evolving crimes. You must have your wits about you and be aware of each step in drafting your will. A second opinion should follow any suspicious circumstances or questionable advice obtained.
Estate planning is a mechanism for maintaining property and assets through fiduciary lineage. With due caution, you can avoid many estate scams and fraud so that you obtain what you are entitled to.
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