In a situation as sensitive as probate, committing fraud may seem almost incomprehensible. This does not, however, mean that it does not occur, with some individuals abandoning any consideration for the bereaved and committing fraud in regards to the assets of the deceased.
By taking advantage of the dead or someone who is close to passing, the fraudster may help themselves to assets, personal possessions or money that was never meant for them. Therefore, it is essential that probate is dealt with in the most effective way.
Probate can often be manipulated by many, resulting in greater opportunity for fraud.
Examples of such fraud include:
– Coercion while the deceased was still alive
– Removal of assets
– Misuse of executor power
Probate fraud has been less common in the past, with an estimated annual cost of around £50 million. With the current believed cost of probate fraud reaching around £150 million per year, it is likely the previous total was significantly underestimated. This is according to the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), who also said that around 50% of solicitors questioned stated they had encountered fraudulent cases within the last year.
Why is this fraud becoming more common?
A report by STEP said ‘it is just too easy.’ Although the beneficiaries benefit from an estate, UK law states they are not able to view the accounts. This is down to the Executor. They have a duty to answer any questions but could easily keep beneficiaries in the dark.
Increasing amounts of probate fraud are also taking place online. An email may be sent from an imposter claiming to be a solicitor regarding a substantial sum to which they may be entitled to as a beneficiary. Before any further information is released however, the fraudster will request funds to cover any tax or other costs. Whilst some of these emails may be easily detected as scams, others are more refined, with false documents even being attached. As technology develops and methods used by fraudsters become more sophisticated, the likelihood of falling victim to a scam only increases.
Avoid the scams
It is important to act preventatively, as well as being aware of what to be on the look-out for, such as:
– Large transfers of money or property
– Disappearance of valuable items
– Sudden alterations of a Will not long before death
It is important to consider these occurrences with great care and get a professional opinion if you have any serious suspicions. Ideally, preventative measures are a more effective means of avoiding the fraud in the first place.
Use a professional – seek out those with proven credibility and competence in dealing with probate cases. They will have sufficient knowledge to handle the deceased’s estate capably.
Make a Will – intestacy (dying without a Will) can lead to complications much greater than fraud so this step is vital. Stating clearly who the Executors and beneficiaries are prevents relatives from sorting out the often complex matter between themselves.
At The Fry Group we have a wealth of experience in acting as a professional executor as well as drafting Wills and would be happy to discuss these aspects with you. Please contact Stephen Wright on 01903 222233 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.