Unfortunately, sometimes a death in the family can bring out the worst in people. Indeed, family resentments sometimes simmer during a time of grieving – particularly when money and assets from the deceased’s estate are involved. If you are a beneficiary under a loved one’s estate plan, you may be under the assumption that those assets will be distributed according to his or her wishes. Inheritance theft, however, is an underreported problem that can cost families dearly. Moreover, the theft can be perpetrated by someone who was highly trusted by the decedent – the executor or Trustee, who is the person typically chosen by the decedent to manage the estate upon his or her death or incapacity. Thankfully, you have the ability to deter a thief from stealing your inheritance and the inheritance of other beneficiaries of the estate.
Safeguard Your Inheritance
There are several ways in which you can ensure that you will not lose your inheritance due to theft perpetrated by a rogue executor or Trustee. The following are three basic ways to do so:
- Knowledge is key: First, be sure to have information about the trust or estate and its assets. You should not get pushback when requesting this. As a beneficiary of the estate, you almost always have a legal right to an inventory and accounting of the estate. This is a summary of all the transactions and assets of an estate or trust and should come with supporting documentation such as receipts or cancelled checks. Even though the executor or trustee is in charge of the assets, he or she is legally required to report on the assets and transactions as well as act in the best interests of the beneficiaries.
- Document, document, document: Whether it is a phone call or an in-person meeting, be sure to document everything in writing. Be sure to confirm details such as what you asked for, what you learned, what you received (or did not receive), etc. Courts across the country often place greater weight on written evidence than on verbal testimony.
- Get outside help: Understand that emotions run high when a loved one has passed away. This can sometimes cloud our judgment, making legally required or authorized actions performed by the executor seem hurtful. Assistance from a third party can help make sure your rights are protected so that neither you nor the estate are unnecessarily tied down with the expense and stress of court battles.
While the best way to protect your wishes is through a well-drafted estate plan – which includes a detailed Trust, Will, and Power of Attorney that appoints multiple individuals as Trustees, Executors and Agents – inheritance theft still happens. Theft can occur through undocumented loans, denigration of other heirs, destruction or forgery of documents, or embezzling, to name a few.
While laws vary from state-to-state regarding how an heir can establish that his or her inheritance has been hijacked or is in danger of being stolen, there are certain basic rights an heir or beneficiary can count on. To learn more, contact me at (858) 432-3923.