Probate Fraud and Scams

Don't get snared by tricksters

A report by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners found that probate fraud is widespread. It is estimated to cost £150 million a year in the UK and half of those professionals questioned said they had experienced suspected theft or fraud in the last year. It is therefore prudent to be careful and vigilant during probate.

Under the current rules, all residuary beneficiaries of the estate are entitled to a copy of the estate accounts. However, if you are not a beneficiary or you are inheriting a specific legacy only you are not entitled to a copy of the estate accounts.

Who may commit probate fraud?

Relatives

A relative is often named as an executor in probate. They are in a position to commit fraud because they have access to the deceased’s property and paperwork. It is sometimes the case that the executor may have a sense of entitlement to the assets in the property that aren’t satisfied by the Will or the rules of intestacy. They also may have a grievance with certain family members.

Carers

Carers are placed in a position of great responsibility as the deceased can often be in a vulnerable position before death.  There have been numerous cases of carers scamming elderly and ill people of their life savings either through theft or pressuring them to change the Will.

Attorneys

It is quite common for someone who has been granted an enduring or lasting power of attorney to be accused of mismanaging funds during the deceased’s lifetime.

Scam warning signs

  • Abrupt changes to the Will or unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts made not long before death
  • The transfer of large sums of money or property, or the disappearance of valuable items
  • The inclusion of someone else’s name on a bank account
  • A relative or friend who assumes the management of the person’s finances but leaves bills unpaid
  • Someone who is anxious and confused about his or her finances

It must be stressed that you should analyse any evidence you receive, and carefully consider it rather than simply reading it and accepting it without question.

One of the best methods to notice fraud is to simply follow your instinct. If something doesn’t seem correct, explore it.

It is important to be discreet when following up suspicions, and not to accuse anyone of fraud without evidence to back it up. The vast majority of probate matters are dealt with fairly and honestly. Sometimes there are perfectly rational explanations for apparently strange goings on, as well as simple genuine human mistakes.

It is best to not pursue such thorough enquiries that the cost of the enquiries outweighs the likely benefit to be obtained.

Prudent things to do if suspicious

  • Acquire copies of all previous Wills
  • Acquire copies of the Will notes
  • Discover who witnessed the Will
  • Consider whether statements can be taken from these people
  • Discover if the Will was explained properly to the deceased
  • Discover where the Will was executed
  • Find details of deceased’s physician/hospital/care home and acquire medical record from them
  • Acquire a copy of the Will of the deceased’s spouse/civil partner if applicable

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