One of the most heartbreaking things that can occur after a loved one dies is to have the assets he or she wanted to leave friends and family members snatched away by a fraudster. However, you may be able to prevent this from happening if you can catch the problem early enough. Here are two things to look out for that may indicate fraud.
Unexpected Will Exclusions or Inclusions
A major red flag that may indicate something is amiss is if the will was changed to exclude or include someone for no apparent or stated reason. For instance, the spouse or children have been cut from the will and another family member has been included with no explanation.
It's not unusual for people to change their minds about who receives their assets after they die. However, you should be suspicious if the decedent made the changes without notifying anyone about them or leaving notes behind explaining why he or she decided to exclude or include certain people. This may indicate the person was unduly influenced or the changes were made without authorization.
Assets are Distributed Differently than Expected
Another red flag is if the person's assets are distributed differently than previously discussed. For instance, the person leaves the majority of his or her money to one or two individuals when, in previous incarnations of the will, the cash was parsed more equitably between all the heirs. Alternatively or in addition, the decedent's will may give large amounts of money or assets to organizations the person was not known to be a part of (e.g. a church or charity no one has heard of).
Both this and the previous situation may indicate the decedent fell under the influence of the person who stands to gain the most from the changes in the will. This can occur in situations where the decedent was in a weakened or vulnerable state (e.g. had dementia) that made the individual more susceptible to being controlled by another person. It could also indicate the will may have been tampered with or forged.
What to Do If You Suspect Fraud
The first thing you should do is acquire copies of all the previous wills the person has created, as well as will notes, and compare them with the updated version. They may contain information that can help you contest the will. For instance, if you notice the new will was created after a particular caretaker came on board and the will happens to benefit that individual, then that may indicate the person applied undue influence on the decedent.
Another thing to do is determine if the individual was in his or her right mind when the will was changed. If the decedent was suffering from a mental disorder such as Alzheimer's, you could get the will thrown out by arguing the person wasn't of sound mind when he or she signed it.
There are many things you can do to prevent a fraudster from stealing your inheritance. Contact a probate lawyer for more information.