Inheritance theft occurs when a person, usually a relative, friend, new spouse or advisor, takes advantage of his or her relationship with the person making the will (called a testator), to obtain or take money or property from the testator that the testator intended to leave to his legal heirs.
The person attempting to steal the testator’s assets gains his trust and proceeds to use such tactics as undue influence, isolation, manipulation, lies, threats or forgery to obtain alleged “gifts”, cash and property.
When most people hear the term inheritance theft, they presume these are acts committed by outsiders that are not related to the testator. The opposite is true- the vast majority of inheritance thefts are committed by the testator’s own children or other family members.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to inheritance theft and – under undue influence – will give away valuables, money and other property to people that visit or stay with them more or help them on a regular basis, especially if the testator’s relatives live far away.
Signs of Inheritance Theft:
- The inheritance thief physically moves in or close to his intended victim or visits often.
- He insinuates himself into the daily lifestyle of the testator (runs errands, accompanies testator to medical appointments, becomes involved in financial matters, etc.)
- There are signers or owners are added to the testator’s bank accounts.
- There are bank, brokerage, and retirement account statements indicating withdrawals in amounts that are greater than normal.
- The testator is isolated from other family members.
Penalties for Inheritance Theft:
Anyone involved in an inheritance scam can potentially face criminal charges for a variety of crimes including:
- State or federal fraud charges.
- Bank fraud charges
- Identity theft charges
- Wire fraud charges
- Forgery charges
These criminal charges, if proven, carry serious penalties and, a defendant could also be subject to civil or criminal forfeiture, a civil lawsuit and forced to pay restitution to the victim.
(In next week’s Bulletin: an in-depth look at an inheritance theft investigation, including assets identification and recovery.)
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware
As always, stay safe.