Preying on the elderly is a despicable act, but one that has become more common in recent years. It’s important to act early to prevent estate fraud from affecting your loved ones. Recognizing the most common types of estate planning fraud will help you step in if an elderly family member is being taken advantage of.
There are two main types of estate fraud: fraudulent acts and undue influence. Both types rely on an elderly person trusting someone they shouldn’t to an extent where they change their will or other financial documents. However, this goal is achieved through different means.
This type of estate planning fraud is more easily recognized as a crime or a scam. Generally, fraud considered a “fraudulent act” is based on false statements made by someone to the elderly person signing the will. These statements cause them to change their will or the terms of a trust in response.
These statements might be made by someone pretending to be a family member, for example, a long-estranged sibling, or they might come from someone claiming to be in the government. Luckily for everyone involved, if you can prove that the terms of a trust or will were changed as the result of false representation, the document is invalid.
This type of estate planning fraud tends to be a lot harder on families and on the victim, as it involves someone close to the victim. Undue influence occurs when someone important to the elderly person convinces them to change the terms of their estate planning documents to something other than their original intentions.
Many elderly people become completely dependent on one of their children or an outside caregiver as they age. This person can end up over-ruling the elderly person’s original wishes for their estate. This does not mean that the caregiver necessarily instilled fear in the victim; undue influence fraud can be the product of a close, kind, and seemingly loving relationship.
Proving that undue influence fraud has occurred requires the family of the victim to prove three things:
– the caregiver had the opportunity to convince the victim to change their estate planning documents,
– the caregiver and the victim had a strong, trusting relationship, and
– the caregiver stands to benefit monetarily from the changes.
The first step to preventing or reversing estate planning fraud is recognizing when it is happening. It’s not always easy to accept that a loved one is being misled, but it’s important to pay attention to the signs.