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What Is Inheritance Theft?

February 14, 2023
Andrew Sigerson
Receiving an inheritance could provide an unexpected (or anticipated) financial windfall. There’s just one thing you may have to contend with – people attempting to steal what you’ve inherited.

Inheritance theft is sometimes a very real issue for those who inherit money, property, or other assets. Inheritance theft laws exist to protect heirs and beneficiaries. If you’re going to receive an inheritance or have received one that was stolen from you, it’s important to know your legal rights and how to get those assets back.

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “Someone Stole My Inheritance. What Are My Options?” says inheritance theft can take different forms, and some are more obvious than others. Some common examples of inheritance theft or inheritance hijacking include:

  • An executor of a will who steals or attempts to conceal assets from the estate inventory
  • A trustee who diverts assets from a trust for their own use or benefit
  • Executors who charge excessive fees for their services
  • Abuse of power of attorney status
  • Use of coercion or undue influence to force a will-maker or trust grantor to change the terms of their will or trust; and
  • Fraud or forgery related to the will or trust document or the destruction of the documents.

Inheritance theft can also occur on a more personal level. Perhaps your sister and you share caregiving duties for your aging mother. Your sister has access to your mother’s bank accounts and—without your knowledge—takes out a large sum while your mother is still living. Your mother then names you as the executor of her will. When she dies, you create an inventory of her assets, as required. While doing so, you discover the missing funds from her bank accounts. If you and your sister were supposed to have inherited those assets jointly, this could be a violation of state inheritance theft laws.

People who commit inheritance theft may be subject to both criminal and civil penalties. A caregiver who steals money from someone’s bank accounts or coerces them into signing over other assets could also be charged with a felony or misdemeanor crime.

The injured heirs or beneficiaries may also opt to pursue a civil claim against someone they believe has stolen their inheritance.

Reference: Yahoo (Jan. 18, 2023) “Someone Stole My Inheritance. What Are My Options?”

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