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Understanding inheritance theft

As much as we'd like to think that our heirs and survivors will come together in grief after we're gone, that isn't always the case. Family in-fighting, resentment, anger, greed, and old "scores to settle" often rear their ugly heads in the aftermath - or just before - a loved one's death.

Sometimes squabbles are verbal or physical in nature. Simmering emotions can boil over at a memorial service or when an estate attorney gathers heirs to read the will. This could lead to shouting matches or even fist fights.

Other times, the issues manifest through inheritance theft. One person literally steals or otherwise takes control of assets that were meant for another beneficiary. It can be difficult to prove inheritance theft, and even more difficult to fight back against it.

Common methods of inheritance theft

Though the circumstances of every inheritance theft case are unique, there are some methods and methodologies that commonly occur. These include:

  • "Denigration" of a fellow heir - one heir could, prior to the decedent's death, attempt to poison the proverbial well where another is concerned. An example of this might be one sibling convincing an ailing parent that the other sibling has a gambling or substance abuse problem and that any inheritance given to that person would be squandered.
  • Embezzlement - an heir named as beneficiary or trustee could purposely divert estate funds to his or her personal accounts. This is illegal in nearly every jurisdiction, but nevertheless frequently occurs.
  • Forging or destroying estate documentation - one heir wishing for a bigger slice of a sizable estate might take the time and effort to create a fake will that distributes assets accordingly. Or, that heir might just destroy the original will and leave no estate plan in place. This would result in state intestacy laws kicking in, which usually divide assets equally in order of succession.
  • Taking undocumented loans - an inheritance thief might, prior to their loved one's passing, take out a substantial loan with no intention of repaying it. Informal loans amongst relatives are often undocumented, so it can be nearly impossible to prove that these funds weren't a gift.

If you have been the victim of inheritance theft, consider bringing a legal action to recover the funds rightfully due to you. Fighting back against a thief ensures that justice is done and allows for carrying out of your deceased loved one's final wishes.

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