Inheritance Theft: Don’t Be A Victim
We often don’t think of inheritances as something that could actually be stolen. After all, there’s a will, or a trust, and possibly, a judge looking over a probate action if there is one, and so if you are entitled to receive assets from an estate, you are reasonably certain you will get what is coming to you.
But inheritance theft is a thing, and it can happen, in many more ways than you probably thought possible.
Some typical examples of inheritance theft are situations like
- Someone in trust, like a trustee, or an executor, hides, or conceals assets that you were supposed to receive – or worse, diverts those assets for his or her own benefit
- Someone in trust uses assets that should be yours, for wasteful needless things – including paying him or herself an excessive fee for services rendered to the estate
- Purposely failing to report an asset as part of the estate that would have been yours, thus that asset is never distributed in accordance with the will or trust
- Using coercion, fraud, or manipulation, to force someone to change a will
The latter example is very similar to a claim of undue influence, a common claim when beneficiaries feel that they have been cheated out of an inheritance.
Proving the Case
Proving inheritance theft varies, depending on the claim being made.
If the claim is that someone in trust or power, such as someone given power under a valid power of attorney, misused that authority to hide or divert or waste funds that should have been yours, a full accounting of the estate may need to be made. The court can order an accounting by a neutral individual, to account for hidden or lost funds.
Independent audits are common in these kinds of cases.
In cases involving undue influence, the claim is the same as it is in a typical undue influence case. The relationship between the third party and the deceased may need to be proven to show that excess or undue pressure or coercion were involved.
Who is Liable?
Sometimes, the identities of the liable or culpable individuals can be hard to ascertain at first.
Who was responsible for hiding, wasting or diverting an asset? Who was it that exerted influence over a mentally vulnerable elderly person? In some cases you may have a strong idea who is culpable—but in other cases, it may not be so clear.
The penalty for inheritance theft is steep. Anybody found liable, can be liable for up to triple damages, can have their own inheritance taken away from them, and can owe punitive damages, as well as your attorneys fees and costs.
You may be aware that you are a victim – but you also may not know, until someone passes away, and time goes by, and you have received nothing, even though you fully expected to receive something.
Don’t let someone steal your inheritance. Call the Torrance will and estate attorneys at Samuel Ford Law today for questions about how to disclaim property, or what will happen when you inherit property from a will or a trust.