Probate fraud is an attempt to deny the beneficiaries of an estate of their inheritance. Methods could be by false accounting, abusing a power of attorney or fake beneficiaries.
It is normally carried out by executors, relatives, carers or even dishonest solicitors, either before or after death. If you're concerned about a case of fraud, call us now on 0800 612 6105 and we may be able to point you in the right direction.
How often does it occur?
A survey of STEP members (The Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners) in 2005 showed that over 50% of members had come across cases of suspected fraud or theft from an estate. It was further estimated to cost estates £150-£200 million a year in the UK.
Why is it so Widespread?
The STEP report deemed probate fraud too easy. According to English law all beneficiaries are not entitled to see the accounts of the estate. This is reserved for the executor, who has a duty to answer any questions put forward by other beneficiaries. This means the beneficiaries are solely reliant on the executor. It is too easy to keep beneficiaries in the dark and existing regulations are inadequate to protect them. In Scotland for example, the accounts of the estate become a public document, which further helps to protect beneficiaries from foul play.
What can I do?
The best way to combat fraud is preventatively by making a sound will and naming executors. Intestate deaths are fraught with complications. Relatives may have conflicting ideas than those stated in the laws of intestacy and decide to take matters into their own hands. Always use a reputable, STEP member like IWC for will writing and estate administration services.
Executors ought to seek professional advice if they encounter any difficulties in relation to their duties. Be vigilant and cautious. Pay particular attention to will changes, items disappearing, money transfers or unexplained withdrawals. You can acquire a copy of the will, check signatures and witnesses. Consider any evidence that you have carefully before taking action.
Online Probate Scams
There are an increasing number of incidences in operation via the internet. Victims are normally emailed by a fraudster claiming they're a probate solicitor. They proceed to inform the recipient that they are the beneficiary of a substantial legacy. They will then be asked for fees, monies to cover costs or taxes in advance before they'll release any further details or the bequest.
Some of these scams are very clever; they even have false documents scanned for you to see. Some probate scams use high-tech photocopiers, computers and other devices to compose fake documents in order to back-up their false claims. If you send money, they will simply invent a new charge or tax that you must pay before you can access your 'inheritance.'
Never trust people offering you vast sums of money from long lost relatives. Remember, if its sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Here is an example of Probate Fraud:
I am Barrister Richard Fenandes, an Attorney at Law. A deceased client of mine, that shares the same last name as you, died of a heart-related condition on March 12th 2005. His heart condition was due to the death of all the members of his family in the tsunami disaster on the 26th December 2004 in Sumatra Indonesia.
I want you to assist me in the distribution of funds. My late Client has a deposit of Nineteen Million Dollars (US$19 Million Dollars) left behind. I can be reached at (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
Barrister Richard Fenandes
If you receive such an email then please report it to the police or Fraud Alert.