3 ways family members could steal from an estate and each other

3 ways family members could steal from an estate and each other

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2021 | Probate |

When someone dies, grief is not the only emotion that overtakes the family. Many people will also experience intense greed when they start to consider their loved one’s resources.

A loss on its own can be a traumatic experience for a family. The death of a close family member can require years of processing to overcome. The actions that people take during the settling of someone’s estate can do even worse long-term damage than the death of a family member.

Whether you are the executor of someone’s estate or a beneficiary, you should be on the lookout for warning signs of family members stealing from the estate.

  1. Some people steal physical property after someone dies

Regardless of whether the deceased individual told someone that they wanted that person to have certain property, beneficiaries of the estate must wait for the executor to distribute assets. Before that can happen, they first have to repay creditors. They also have to make sure that the estate plan or last will validate someone’s claim to certain property.

Some people may try to increase what they get from a family member’s estate by taking property early in the process. They hope that others will overlook the fact that it is missing. Small and valuable items, like jewelry, fine watches, electronics, medication and antiques or collectibles may be among the property that people target for this kind of theft.

  1. An executor could hide property or even a more recent last will

The person entrusted with the responsibility to settle the estate could use that authority to defraud beneficiaries, even if those people are their siblings. Executors might hide newer versions of the estate plan that benefit them less. They could claim that the deceased sold, used or gave away property that they intend to keep for themselves.

  1. People might commit fraud to try to claim part of the estate

The more assets and valuable property someone has, the more reason people have to manipulate other beneficiaries and the executor of the estate. Some people might prevent inaccurate documents claiming that they loaned money to the deceased.

Others might claim repayment the second time on a debt the deceased party already settled. Still others might claim to have documents signed by the deceased granting them certain property. In rare cases, might even go the extra step of fraudulently changing the last will in the hope that they will be able to keep more of the estate.

If you suspect fraud by an executor, you may need to challenge them in probate court to preserve the assets in the estate. If you will serve as an executor, you will need to be careful when scrutinizing documents presented by others and take swift action to secure the most valuable property from the estate before anyone can steal from the estate.

William G. Peterson
FindLaw Network