It should be up to you to decide who will inherit which assets after your passing. To ensure that your wishes are honored, you have a Will and might even have some assets held in Trust. However, these efforts might not stop a child or ex-spouse from trying to get what they think they are owed. Whether it is by contesting a Will or by committing inheritance theft, these disgruntled heirs are often successful in getting what they want despite your intentions. We take a look at common forms of inheritance theft and explain how a solid estate plan can protect your assets from these kinds of underhanded tactics.

Blended Families Are the Most Likely to Fight Over an Inheritance

Almost every contested Probate case we see at Ross & Shoalmire involves a second or subsequent marriage. In fact, 90 percent of these cases are between a surviving spouse and the deceased spouse’s children from a previous marriage. In the worst-case scenario, the disgruntled party commits some form of inheritance theft to get what they think they are owed. Man Protecting His Savings From Another ManThese thefts can range from small but meaningful items, such as jewelry or family heirlooms, to hundreds of thousands of dollars siphoned from the estate before Probate even occurs. When there is dissension among family members, theft and fraud are more likely to occur.

How Family Members Hijack an Inheritance

Stealing from a family member’s estate can happen even before the person has passed away. Sometimes, family members have direct access to money and property and simply take it. Other methods are a little more complicated, such as the following:

  • Undocumented loans. Loaning money to a relative with a verbal promise from them to pay it back is a good way to make sure you never get the money back. After you have passed away, your estate will have no legal grounds for making the borrower return the money. Any time you lend money, even to an adult child, you should insist on loan documents to ensure repayment.
  • Denigration of fellow heirs. Badmouthing a sibling or other potential heir to an elderly parent is a dirty trick to get a bigger share of the inheritance. Convincing someone to change their Will by lying about a fellow heir is particularly sneaky because the targeted heir will have no idea that their inheritance has been reduced until after it is too late to do anything about it.
  • Forging or destroying documents. Not only is falsifying documents underhanded and immoral, but it is also illegal. Unlike the previous forms of inheritance theft, forging documents can actually be prosecuted. If an heir destroys an existing Will and claims there was no Will or produces a new Will after the estate owner has died, these claims should be thoroughly investigated.

While having a comprehensive estate plan that includes a Will, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney is essential for ensuring that your property and assets are distributed according to your wishes, that does not make your estate impervious to theft

Ways to Protect Your Estate From Inheritance Theft

When you work with Ross & Shoalmire PLLC to create or update your estate plan, we will encourage you to protect your estate by doing the following:

  • Appoint more than one executor. Along with a trusted family member or friend, appointing an outsider, such as an attorney or financial planner, as co-executor will keep everything above-board when it comes time to Probate the Will.
  • Share your plan with your entire family. Discussing your plan with all of your heirs at once will make it harder for any one person to try to pull something after you are gone. This is not an easy conversation to have, but it can be vitally important.

Our estate planning team takes pride in getting to know our clients as individuals, including making an effort to understand family dynamics and to take steps to prevent future conflict and to protect your estate from outright inheritance theft. If you have questions about your existing estate plan or need to start one from scratch, reach out to our team today.

Lisa B. Shoalmire
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Attorney And Senior Partner