Estate planning is a powerful tool to protect your assets and provide for your loved ones. Recognizing and preventing fraud in this process is essential to ensure that your wishes are carried out with integrity and that your legacy remains intact. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you keep an eye out for warning signs and take the necessary steps to identify and prevent fraud.
Common Types of Estate Frauds
Estate planning fraud refers to deceptive and unlawful practices or schemes aimed at manipulating or misrepresenting documents, assets, or the overall process for fraudulent financial gain.
- Forgery and Alteration: Fraudsters may forge or alter legal documents, such as wills, trusts, or powers of attorney, to divert assets or benefits to themselves or others not intended by the estate owner.
- Undue Influence: In cases of undue influence, an individual with power or control over the estate owner exerts pressure or manipulates them into making changes to their estate plan that benefit the influencer. This often happens when the estate owner is vulnerable due to age, illness, or dependency.
- Fake Professionals: Some individuals falsely represent themselves as estate planning professionals or attorneys, offering their services to draft or revise estate planning documents. They may charge exorbitant fees or manipulate the documents to their advantage.
- Investment Scams: Estate planning fraud can also involve fraudulent investment schemes or products that claim to provide exceptional returns. These schemes may convince estate owners to invest their assets with the promise of significant financial gains, only for the assets to be misappropriated.
- Identity Theft: Fraudsters may steal the identity of the estate owner to gain access to their financial accounts, assets, or personal information, ultimately compromising their estate planning.
- Property Fraud: In some cases, individuals may falsely claim ownership or rights to an estate owner’s property, leading to legal disputes over the assets.
- Fake Charities: Fraudulent charities or organizations may deceive estate owners into naming them as beneficiaries in their estate planning documents, diverting funds meant for charitable purposes to personal gain.
Tips to Recognize and Prevent Estate Planning Fraud
Know the Law
Before diving into estate planning, educate yourself about the fundamentals. Knowing what a legitimate estate plan should consist of is the first step in recognizing any irregularities.
Verify Professional Credentials
When getting professional help for estate planning, ensure that the individuals or firms you are working with have legitimate and well-documented credentials. You should look for references, client reviews, and certifications to confirm their specialization and reputation.
Scrutinize All Documents
Take a close look at your estate planning documents, such as wills and trusts. You need to remain alert to poorly written or hastily drafted documents, unclear clauses, or any irregular language. Any of these could be a sign that something is amiss.
Avoid High-Pressure Situations
You should be cautious of individuals who try to rush you into making hasty decisions or isolate you from trusted family members and advisors. High-pressure tactics are often employed by fraudsters.
Question Excessive Fees
Keep an eye out for excessive fees or charges related to your estate planning. Unscrupulous advisors may focus on their own financial gains over your best interests.
An uptick in family disputes or tensions revolving around your estate plan can be a red flag. Such conflicts could indicate irregularities in the planning process.
Insist on Transparency
A trustworthy estate planning professional should be transparent about the process. They should explain the legal documents, answer your questions, and provide clear reasons for their recommendations. If you encounter secrecy or a lack of transparency, it might be a warning sign.
Obtain a Second Opinion
Consider consulting with an independent attorney for a second opinion. A fresh perspective can help you verify the legitimacy of your estate plan and identify potential issues.
Regularly Review Your Estate Plan
Life changes, and so should your estate plan. You should regularly review your plan to make sure that it accurately reflects your current wishes and can prevent unauthorized modifications.
Seasoned Estate Planning Attorneys Can Help Address Fraud
You should always choose an experienced estate planning attorney with a strong professional reputation and a history of ethical practice. Here are a few ways our attorneys at Johannesmeyer & Sawyer can help you:
- Review and Audit: Our attorneys will review existing estate planning documents for irregularities or signs of fraud. We will conduct an audit to ensure the documents accurately reflect your wishes.
- Spotting Red Flags: We are skilled in identifying red flags, such as poorly drafted documents, unusual clauses, or instances where undue influence may have been exerted.
- Second Opinions: If you suspect that your estate plan has been manipulated or compromised, you can get a second opinion from our qualified attorneys to confirm the legitimacy of the plan.
- Legal Action: If estate planning fraud is suspected, we can help initiate legal proceedings to rectify the situation. This may involve contesting a will, pursuing a claim of undue influence, or other remedies under estate planning and probate laws.
- Asset Recovery: In cases where assets have been misappropriated, our law firm can assist in asset recovery efforts through legal action.
- Dispute Resolution: In situations involving family disputes or conflicts related to estate planning fraud, our lawyers can help mediate and resolve issues through negotiation, settlement, or litigation.
Consult with a Skilled and Knowledgeable Estate Planning Attorney Today
If you are concerned about the security of your estate and the financial well-being of your loved ones, it is time to take proactive steps and speak with the estate planning attorneys at Johannesmeyer & Sawyer, PLLC. We are committed to ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes and that your loved ones are cared for, even when you are no longer there. Call our toll-free number (844) 843-1589 or reach us online to schedule your free consultation.