When a loved one is close to breathing their last breath or has passed on, someone may steal from their estate when they are powerless to prevent this. Probate fraud is one of the nastiest, despicable crimes in the UK.
Unfortunately it’s also on the increase. The Gazette believes probate fraud totals £150 million annually, and one in two probate professionals have encountered it.
Who Are the Nasty Horrible People Doing This?
The short answer is anybody in a position of trust can get away with it, unless other people in the inner circle are alert. The people stalking ‘mother’s estate’ could be close family members, intimate friends, carers, legal specialists or even neighbours.
The only way to protect your own legitimate interest in an estate is to watch carefully for signs of fraud, and take action immediately if anything makes you suspicious.
What are the Signs of Fraud to Watch Out For?
# Changes to Their Will Shortly Before They Died
- Did the deceased person change the conditions of their will – especially the main beneficiary – shortly before they died? Can you think of any reasonable reason why they would have wanted to do this?
- Did they consult a probate professional and perhaps appoint them as executor? If not, a handwritten will or internet form may indicate they possibly did not understand what they signed
- Can you think of anybody who might have had reason to influence the conditions of the will? Was someone they had not seen for a while – or a stranger – spending undue time with them and perhaps excluding others?
Finally, does the deceased person’s will ring true to their personal relationships? If it makes strange bequests that jar with your understanding, then there’s a possibility it is a forgery.
# Unusual / Unexpected Transactions Before or Shortly After Death
Review the deceased person’s last three bank statements for suspicious or unusual transfers or cash withdrawals. Did any of these take place while they were in hospital, or mentally / physically unable to do this themselves.
If you are able to access their accounts, check to see whether they added a new beneficiary, or paid a sum of money to an attorney you don’t know. Finally, if you find a bill in their mail for a large amount that does not make sense to you, query it.
# Unusual Requests to Beneficiaries Awaiting Pay Outs
Most people in Britain have no idea how wills, disbursements, and probate work in practice. They are content to wait for their inheritance to arrive in their account, and are often open to requests to do something to release the funds.
It’s not uncommon for them to receive emails from people pretending to be solicitors. These messages usually ask them to send money to a bogus bank account to settle a bill or pay outstanding tax.
I’m Suspicious about Something? What Must I Do
Speak to the solicitor managing the estate, or the person holding the Grant of Probate. If they don’t take you seriously, or are plain disinterested speak to the police. You owe it to the deceased to see their last will and testament fulfilled.