These are some of the phrases you hear when someone is surprised by what they see or are presented with, being contrary to their expectations and understanding.
This is firmly evident when a family member dies and the executors seek to discover what assets are in the estate, only for the family beneficiaries under the Will to discover all is not what they expected. This may simply be due to the misrepresentations of the deceased, a misunderstanding of facts or a change in personal circumstances. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some individuals see such situations or forthcoming events as an opportunity to take advantage of the rightful beneficiaries of an estate, as well as the person – perhaps when they were close to death, or soon after death – to commit fraud and help themselves to the assets, personal possessions and any cash that is available. While no two situations are ever the same, it’s a good idea to trust your instincts when it comes to probate and estate fraud and if something doesn’t add up, examine it further. It’s better to be safe than sorry and not acting on “a gut instinct” can inevitably lead to even more stress and, regrettably, financial loss in the future.
Some warning signs of probate and estate fraud include:
- Unusual or sudden changes to a Will.
- Wishes expressed in a Will at odds to assertions previously expressed.
- Large sums of money transferred for no apparent rational reason.
- Unusual property transfers.
- Missing valuables.
- An additional name appearing on bank accounts.
- The signature on the Will appearing different to someone’s usual signature.
- An individual appearing nervous or stressed about their finances.
- An individual changing their Will and the disposition of their estate.
- A power of attorney being granted but not to someone you would expect or where the terms are unusual.
- An individual suddenly being isolated from those who were involved in their original care or social activities.
- An individual being moved into someone else’s home or someone else moving into theirs.
- Regular income payments, e.g. a pension, paid to accounts not previously known.
- An elderly relative suddenly signing more and more documents as they near death.
- An unusual amount of trust being placed in new found acquaintances when there is a history of mistrust in the family, especially with financial affairs.
- When someone makes promises of life-long care in exchange for property upon the individual’s death.
- If an individual is never left alone with anyone or access to them is restricted.
- When the individual talks of a “wonderful new friend” but because they are suspicous of family members, declines invitations to family gatherings.
- The individual is pressed into a transaction and not given time to reflect or consult with trusted advisors.
- When medication and food may be administered in ways that further weaken and/ or confuse the individual.
- If a new professional adviser is instructed different to those previously trusted.
- If the style of written and verbal communications change.
- When professional advisers known to the family start acting in a remote or strange manner.
- Family assets are sold and a third party valuation is suspect.
Some facts worth considering:
- In January 2013 the Independent newspaper reported the number of cases declaring whole Wills as being ‘invalid’ actually doubled. Moreover the London High Court saw a 700% rise in the number of actions challenging provisions made in Wills.
- In 2018 the UK High Court recorded a 30% increase in the number of issued probate disputes on the previous year.
- Cases involving assets held in a trust have also increased from 86 claims in 2010 to
- 201 claims in 2016. A typical example of a trust dispute is where a Will gives a surviving spouse the right to live in the matrimonial home for the rest of their life, and there is a falling out with the children of the deceased from a previous marriage.
In cases involving potential probate or estate fraud, it is important “not to jump the gun” and to accuse anyone of deceit, misappropriation, forgery, theft or undue influence without obtaining sufficient evidence and taking appropriate legal advice. To do otherwise enables any such perpetrator of such a misfeasance to “cover their tracks” and “muddy the waters”, so that the ability to hold them accountable in the future becomes more difficult.
Need help, understanding and support?
Crossleys has experience in dealing with contested probate and family matters. We can help you understand what has or may have taken place. We can assist you in collating the relevant facts and evidence, piece together the story of events and put together a suitable briefing paper with supporting documentation to present to your lawyers so they provide you with a fully informed legal opinion as to whether there is a case to answer and what further action or steps need to be considered or pursued.
So how can Crossleys help you?
If you would like to know more about the points highlighted in this article, please contact
UHY Crossleys LLC
Telephone: +44 1624 822816
A member of UHY International, a network of independent accounting and consulting firms.
Article by Nigel Rotheroe
I am a qualified accountant working in public practice and a director of a number of licensed trust and corporate service provider companies. I am actively involved in wealth management and preservation structures for clients in the Isle of Man, where I live and further afield and this often entails working with clients and/or professional firms overseas. My work varies day to day and ranges from giving bespoke tax and structure advice, undertaking special projects, and addressing the multitude of issues that trust and corporate administration work brings. Life is never dull!