Estate Looting Lawyers
What is Estate Looting?
A person’s estate is the sum total of all the assets and property that they own. An estate is usually itemized through estate planning so that the assets may be distributed to recipients upon the estate holder’s death or illness.
“Estate looting” occurs where a person uses illegal means to gain access to another person’s estate. The estate “looter” is usually a relative or close friend of the estate holder, and may have knowledge of exactly what assets and how much money the person is holding. Estate looters often take advantages of situations where the estate holder is elderly, or is mentally unable to make decisions due to illness, especially if the person possesses much wealth.
There are many laws that create mechanisms to help prevent estate looting, such as requiring witnesses to be present during signing. Therefore estate looting usually involves attempts to circumvent or avoid formal estate procedures. Estate looting often involves multiple acts that are part of an overall scheme to steal the assets.
How does Estate Looting occur?
Estate looting can involve a series of acts that are all interconnected. It can involve one or even several person who may be part of the scheme. Some of the various acts which are involved in estate looting can include:
- Undue influence: This is where the defendant exercises an inappropriate influence on the estate holder. For example, they may use threats of force or financial aggression to influence the way the estate holder drafts their will. This is illegal and is punishable by law
- Fraud: The defendant may make a fraudulent representation regarding themselves or other parties interested in the estate. This can include providing fraudulent information or statements that would mislead the estate holder
- Forgery: This can include falsifying a signature, or providing fake documents
- Larceny: The defendant may often simply physically steal the property
- Unauthorized changes: The estate looter may seek to illegally modify a will or other documents to redistribute the property differently
What are the Penalties for Estate Looting?
Since so many different types of crimes may be involved in estate looting, the legal consequences may be very great. The penalties usually involve fines and possible jail time. However, multiple or repeat offenses may result in felony charges, which carry such consequences as heavier fines, and possible time in a state or federal prison. If several different looters are involved in an overall fraud scheme, they may be held liable for the acts of the other defendants.
How can I Protect myself against Estate Looting?
Estate looting happens mostly because the holder of the estate has become ill or incapacitated due to age. Therefore the best measure to protect against looting is to plan your estate while you are still mentally competent to make your own decisions. Some other steps to take are:
- Appoint a competent person to manage your estate: This may involve creating a power of attorney with instructions regarding your estate if you happen to fall ill. Your estate administrator should be a trusted person who knows your intentions on how to handle and distribute your assets.
- Research your state’s laws: Every state has different laws governing estates, wills, and trusts. You may wish to conduct some basic research so that you know how your state deals with estate planning
- Consult with a lawyer: Your lawyer can help you draft the necessary documents to protect your estate. Also, having a lawyer present during estate planning and signing can protect against violations such as fraud or undue influence
Finally, understand that estate looters often act according to very personal motivations. For example, a person’s greed may drive them to take unscrupulous actions. Or, often times the estate looter may not even wish to take the assets for themselves- instead they may be trying to prevent an heir (such as an ex-spouse) from receiving their distributions.
Therefore, you should be aware of any inner conflicts within a family that might cause problems during estate distributions. Try to plan your distributions so as to avoid conflicts and disputes in the future.
Do I need a Lawyer to protect against Estate Looting?
Estate planning is a very complex and comprehensive process, as it involves a person’s entire list of assets and financial savings. Hiring a lawyer can be very useful at every step of the process, whether it be document drafting, signing, or handling distributions. Many criminal acts are prevented simply if a potential offender knows that a lawyer is involved.
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Last Modified: 03-23-2011 01:51 PM PDT