Know the Signs: Inheritance Scams
When you or a loved one is preparing a will or has an estate plan already in place, the unfortunate truth is that there are some people out there who will try to take advantage of this. They sometimes use scams, tricks or stories in an effort to obtain money that rightfully belongs to you, a family member or other heirs.
If you know the signs of these scams, you can help prevent or protect your family from them. Contact a Fort Myers inheritance scam lawyer with South West Florida Probate Trial Lawyers if you believe you have been victimized by an inheritance scam.
The first red flag for people in an inheritance scam is when an older or indigent person suddenly has a surprising new friendship.
Sometimes, this person seems to have come out of nowhere. The individual may be a neighbor who suddenly offers to pop in or run errands or provide companionship all the time. Other times, the individual may be in a position of trust already, like a caretaker in a nursing home who takes an extraordinary interest in your dying relative.
While most people probably do care for your loved one, be aware of such “surprise friendships” and be sure to observe if they evolve very quickly or if other changes occur.
Power of Attorney
When someone has power of attorney, he or she can make many decisions on your behalf or on behalf of a loved one. If the person has a durable power of attorney, he or she retains these rights even in the event of incapacitation.
The person with power of attorney may make changes to financial plans or manage investments. Sudden changes to a power of attorney, granting these rights to someone new or to someone who may not have honest intentions is another major red flag.
Sometimes, the elderly may be so grateful for sudden upswings in attention or help that they make lavish gifts at the urging of new friends or devious relatives. A fraudster may also indicate that the gift is beneficial for tax purposes now to avoid inheritance taxes later or to obtain Medicaid.
However, these “gifts” aren’t necessarily always given with a full understanding of the situation. Your loved one may believe he or she is lawfully avoiding tax penalties. He or she may not understand that money was given away — the individual may think a friend is holding it or otherwise managing it for him or her.
Some victims may not even need Medicaid, but a fraudster has tricked them into thinking that the gift was the only way to get medical care. Then, when it’s time for the intended heirs to receive an inheritance, the money is gone.
Be particularly wary if the gift recipient is also the person with power of attorney, especially if the power of attorney choice was surprising.
Fraud, Forgery and Undue Influence
A will is invalid if the testator or person making the will was the victim of any kind of manipulation — that is, someone manipulated the individual into making a different will than they would have.
In some instances, an elderly person signs something he or she doesn’t understand or the elderly individual believes he or she is signing something else. Or in the alternative, the individual may not have signed a document at all, but someone forged the signature.
Sometimes, a fraudster scares your loved one into making a change. There may be blackmail, threats or lies about false consequences if the elderly person doesn’t do what the manipulator says.
If you see any of these signs or experience any sudden changes, please contact one of our attorneys today.