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What is inheritance theft? How can you spot it or prevent it?

We have talked about inheritance theft or inheritance “hijacking” before. But many people are unsure as to what exactly constitutes theft when it comes to an inheritance.

Not everyone has been in a position to inherit a large estate or large sum of money. So much of what is acceptable and what is not remains murky. Until it happens to you. 

What can be designated in a will?

Most of us believe that a person has the right to bequeath whatever they want to whomever they choose in their will.  And this is true. Things get nebulous however when the person who owns the estate and has a will (called the testator) is in some way vulnerable and then manipulated by another person.  

5 ways an inheritance can be stolen

There are more than five ways, actually. Listed below are the five most common ways a family member, caregiver, friend, romantic partner or even an administrator can hijack an inheritance.

  1. Undue influence-for example a caregiver, persuades an elderly and cognitively challenged adult to leave them assets.
  2. Duress- when someone pressures the estate holder (the “testator”) time and time again to leave them money or other valuable assets.
  3. Forgery -or any falsification of documents.
  4. Theft -by an administrator who was entrusted to carry out the will to the wishes of the testator.
  5. Marriage- when someone feigns affection to inveigle the estate holder to marry them and then gain control of the estate and assets.

While these nefarious behaviors take an inheritance out of the hands of the rightful recipients certain types of inheritance theft can also leave the testator without food, housing or long term care.

6 things you can do

Staying on top of the finances and keeping a watchful eye is the best way to see if someone has undue influence and is stealing an inheritance. Here are the six things to frequently review:

  • The tax  records to see if there have been any title changes, sales of property or liens.
  • All bank withdrawals to make sure another person has not been added to the account.
  • Any and all IRA and 401 accounts; look for any changes or new beneficiaries.
  • Federal and state tax returns. Take an inventory of these documents of  the past five years. See if recent returns show any major changes.
  • The will. Look any for recent changes.
  • Frequently inventory expensive personal assets of the testator. Make sure that emerald necklace is still in the safe and the Monet hangs on the piano room wall.

While life affords us few guarantees a diligent, watchful eye can go a long way in catching inheritance theft early.  

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