How To Prevent Seniors Estate Planning Fraud

Financial exploitation of the elderly is becoming more common, and the perpetrator is frequently a family member.

Increasing social pressures, disintegrated families, technological advancements, and the use of internet banking all contribute to this problem. Anyone is vulnerable, but age, disability, cognitive impairment, and poor mental health may make a person more vulnerable.

In this article, we will look at the specific case of committing estate planning fraud where the targeted victims are seniors or people with disabilities. We will understand who, how, and why commit it as well as give you advice on spotting and challenging it.

According to statistics, it is the people close to the deceased that are most likely to commit estate planning fraud.

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"What is Estate Planning Fraud?"

Fraudulent activities around estate planning are quite diverse. They can happen both before the estate owner has passed away, when the will preparation is still in progress, and after, when the will is being executed. The way fraud is committed in a variety of ways as well. Executors and attorneys handling the will can deliberately perform steps that were not described in the will, fake relatives claiming their part in the estate can appear. Finally, wills can simply be forged.

Who Could Commit Estate Planning Fraud?

According to statistics, it is the people close to the deceased that are most likely to commit estate planning fraud. Let us list and understand who they are and what kind of role they can play in this process.

Relatives

A relative can have many motivations to commit a fraud. They can consider the will unjust.

If, for example, they were excluded from it or their part was less than what they were expecting. Alternatively, they might not be part of the will, but they might have negative emotions and attitude towards another relative who has benefited from the will.

Committing fraud is considerably easier for relatives as they have access to the paperwork and property of the deceased and it is very common for them to become the executors of the will.

Caregivers

Nurses, medical staff and private senior care professionals carry a great deal of responsibility when working with seniors. Being the principal person interacting and looking after the elderly, they gain a significant amount of trust and their actions, even fraudulent, can be easily overlooked. The deceased is usually in a vulnerable position both mentally and emotionally before death, giving the caregivers more opportunities to manipulate this situation to their advantage.

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Targeted Victims (Seniors)

While estate planning fraud can technically be committed against people of any age, it is usually the senior citizens who are scammed the most. UK citizens aged over 50 are in possession of 70% of the nation’s wealth, making them a desirable target for fraudsters. Unfortunately, wealth is not the only factor that makes the elderly susceptible. There are many other reasons, including:

  • They do not always realise the current market value of their assets, specifically their real estate and savings
  • They are more likely to be lonely and emotionally vulnerable.
  • Many of them may have disabilities and medical conditions that affect cognitive function.
  • They can depend on others. Sometimes, even when they realise what has happened, they can be reluctant to take action against the abuser, as they do not want that person to stop caring for them.
  • The generation born between the 1930's and 1950's were raised in an environment of politeness and trust. They do not always realise how common deception and fraud are these days.
  • Even when senior citizens report the crime, they usually make poor witnesses. The effects of age on memory result in seniors not being able to provide enough details to law enforcement agencies to help them identify the criminal.

The generation born between the 1930's and 1950's were raised in an environment of politeness and trust. They do not always realise how common deception and fraud are these days.

Types of Scams

So far we discussed the actors of fraud and the reasons the elderly are targeted. Now let us understand how estate planning fraud is committed.

Fraudulent Inducement

This legal term describes the cases when someone enters a legal agreement without understanding the terms of that agreement because of deception from the fraudster. An example of fraudulent inducement can be when a caregiver tells the senior citizen that they are signing a seemingly unimportant document (e.g. a medical form), while in reality, they are signing a will. If proven in court, fraudulent inducement is a legal basis for annulating the will.

Executor Fraud

The estate executor is the person appointed to administer the probate process of the deceased. Executors can deliberately interpret the content of the will falsely or manage the assets and documents to their own benefit.

Submitting an Outdated Will

When people change their wills, the previous version loses its legal power. However, fraudsters can submit this old version under a false claim that it is the current and legally binding version of the will.

False Codicil

If the will is already executed, it can only be changed with a document called a codicil. Scammers can produce a false codicil that gives them a part in the will that is not rightfully theirs.

False Heirs

When the person has no will and the regular inheritance rules are to apply, the fraudsters will declare themselves the children of the deceased from another, sometimes nonexistent partner and demand their part in the estate.

Forgery

Fraudsters can simply forge a will and present it as genuine. The most common type of this is amateur forging - performed by family members. Amateur forging is usually easy to detect and prove in court, considering that the fraudster rarely carries it out with caution and leaves many mistakes and signs that can be easily identified by investigators.

Sometimes it is the professional criminal or organised group that forges the document. One known case was uncovered by Anglia Research, a probate research company. The criminal created fake will documents that disinherited the family members of deceased people. Then he contacted the heirs, claiming that he found the genuine will and demanded a significant fee for handing it over to them.

Unlike amateur forgery, uncovering the professional forgery requires expertise and time and it is much harder to prove in court.

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Spotting Signs of Seniors Estate Planning Fraud

Depending on the specific case, it is either relatively easy or very hard to prove that an estate planning fraud has taken place. However, there are general signs that can help you spot this fraud, such as:

  • When they are unexpected changes made to the will immediately before the death. Especially beware when there are unfamiliar people added to the will.
  • When the witnesses to the will are either deceased or very hard to locate.
  • When the witnesses are people close to the person who was recently added as a beneficiary in the will.
  • When anomalous debts have appeared during the execution process.
  • When the person who gets the largest part of the estate was a direct participant during the preparation of the will.

What To Do If You Suspect Estate Planning Fraud

Any fraudulent activity related to the preparation, probation, and execution of the will is considered a criminal offence. Therefore, contesting the will requires concrete proof. Some of the fraud types we discussed are easy to prove. Investigators and professionals at law enforcement agencies can easily identify amateur forgery. You can prove that someone is a false heir by performing a people search in the UK or DNA analysis. Unfortunately, the remaining types of fraud are much harder to prove as little to no evidence exists of them.

In any case, if you spot anything unusual or suspicious, immediately report it to the police and consult with legal professionals about challenging the will in court.

To Conclude

Our parents, grandparents, lovely neighbours and anyone of senior age can become victims of financial abuse, estate planning fraud in particular. We hope that we have provided enough information for you to know when something has gone wrong in the estate planning process and take care of it immediately.

Would you like help with finding care near you? Please get in touch with our friendly team today!

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