Probate fraud victims often search for answers to some tough questions:
- Why did my father’s fiduciary take from the will?
- How did my mother’s caregiver become the executor of the estate?
- I thought my dad was wealthier … where did the money go?
Let’s be clear—MONEY is the only reason why a fraudster would consider hijacking your inheritance and pulling off such a heist is easier than you think.
All it takes for your legacy to disappear is one wrongdoer convincing a loved one to execute his/her estate plan under false pretenses, duress or deceit.
Fraudsters are frequently family members but may include any person who betrayed the testator’s trust via undue influence, deception, manipulation, or forgery with intent to steal from the estate.
Inheritance misappropriation however—i.e. bank account lootings, suspect spending, questionable stock and bond transfers, personal property takings, business asset embezzlements, mysterious real estate conveyances—do have one thing in common:
“ Wrongdoers often leave paper trails before, during, and after the probate fraud takes place.”
Probate Fraud in a Nutshell
When you litigate a probate fraud lawsuit, you must offer the court evidence showing the defendant fraudulently induced or misled the deceased into executing the testamentary documents in controversy.
Fraud acts are accordingly “misrepresentations” that wrongdoers intentionally commit to injure your inheritance.
Juries hearing probate fraud cases may not assume the defendant’s intent; so, you’ll have to prove this element in court—show the respondent knew or should have known his/her representation was false and prove the defendant expected the deceased to execute his/her estate plan based on the misrepresentation.
Alternatively, your probate fraud litigator may choose to introduce a presumption of fraud, or rather, suspicious circumstances that call for the alleged wrongdoer to prove he/she took from the estate legitimately.
The courts will further compel you to show an injury actually occurred, meaning probate fraud may only take place after the act and after the testator’s testamentary documents enter probate.
Since injury and intent are essential elements that juries must consider before setting aside a will or trust, your probate litigator will most likely retain expert inheritance theft investigators to explore the financial paper trails and mishaps the wrongdoer left behind.
Inheritance Theft Investigation
Asset investigation, financial audits, and deposition review all occur during discovery.
Here, attorney-retained forensic accountants and inheritance theft investigators seek to paint the testator’s financial picture before, during, and after his/her acquaintance with the alleged fraudster.
Remember that fraud claims cannot stand without sound evidence and expert testimony supporting them. Probate theft investigators are therefore arguably the most important participants in discovery, since it’s their job to investigate, examine and review the deceased’s economic, property and pecuniary interests before death and build conclusions pertinent to your claim.
Professional theft Investigators can also deliver expert testimony in court or in deposition to support your probate fraud lawsuit if it goes to trial.
Typical probate fraud discoveries include:
- Substantial credit card charges.
- Valuable testimony hidden in affidavits.
- Unwarranted applications for new credit lines.
- Irregular cash withdrawals.
- Pertinent evidence discovered in personal interviews.
- Heavy gifting from the deceased to the defendant.
- Unauthorized automobile and personal property purchases to the wrongdoer.
- Extraordinary real estate transactions on properties held by the decedent.
Probate Fraud Discovery Example
You and your brother Jack claim to be victims of probate fraud after your uncle John, sole executor and holder of a durable power of attorney (POA) for your late father’s estate, withdrew over $100k from a bank account in your father’s name before his death and stands to inherit $500K from a will presented in probate.
You can prove via medical evidence that your father had dementia and lacked the mental capacity to make his own financial decisions. You further hold testimony revealing Uncle John was present when his brother bequeathed estate assets in a modified will that your father executed only two months prior to his death.
Finally, your father’s old business partner is prepared to testify that he heard John tell his brother on two occasions that his two children had passed away, and the testator believed the false statement was true.
Unfortunately for you and your brother, Uncle John’s alleged embezzlement and expected inheritance effectively removes you and Jack as beneficiaries from the will, but are your dad’s testamentary documents valid?
Absolutely not! But to win back your inheritance, you must find evidence that presumes your father was a fraud victim and shows Uncle John’s fraudulent conduct injured you and your brother economically.
Forensic Accounting Analysis
Forensic accountants working on probate fraud claims look for the will challenger’s economic injuries. These CPA professionals are expert auditors and can discover whether irregular activity took place while scrutinizing the estate’s financial documents, personal property inventory, and real estate transactions.
In the above example, the forensic accountant your probate fraud litigator retained had found that over the last five years Uncle John used his POA to write five checks to himself totaling $20K each. Each transaction drew cash from his brother’s personal bank account, and no memo exists explaining why John withdrew the money.
Your inheritance theft investigator may afterward produce a forensic report of which you can use as evidence of injury, revealing potential losses to the deceased’s assets before his death, and subsequently, to the beneficiaries of his estate.
You may alternatively subpoena your forensic accountant to provide the court with expert testimony during trial to show suspicious fraud circumstances exist in your case (effectively shifting the burden of proof to the defendant).
Fraudulent Inducement Investigations
Inheritance theft examiners likewise may discover proof of the defendant’s fraudulent inducement, misrepresentation or intent after scouring through witness testimony, interviews, interrogatories and depositions.
Here, Uncle John’s misrepresentation occurred when he convinced his brother that his children were deceased, making John the estate’s only heir.
How did the probate fraud investigators discover Uncle John had made this statement and that he knew or should have known his representation was false at the time he made it?
Well, your probate dispute attorney’s fraud examiner fortunately applied scanning technology to the countless depositions taken in your case and found your dad’s old business partner’s testimony after searching for fraud keywords among the text.
And because John is your uncle and was your father’s fiduciary before death, a jury can infer he should have known that you and Jack were alive and well and expecting to inherit from the estate.
Because of your diligent probate fraud investigation during discovery, the courts can now replace your father’s will with a previous one or declare your dad’s estate intestate where you and your brother can inherit under Iowa’s laws of intestate succession.
The courts may further force Uncle John to pay back the $100K he misappropriated from the estate with interest, effectively reimbursing you and your brother for your loss.
Nothing is more troublesome than knowing someone has deceived or taken advantage of a defenseless loved one before passing away. A few decades ago, wrongdoers could get away with manipulating testators for their own personal gain.
However, with advances in forensic auditing and deposition scanning technology, expert inheritance theft examiners can offer you a better chance at taking back your inheritance should a fraudster ever try to steal it.