Estate planning scams are on the rise, especially where the elderly and other vulnerable population segments are concerned. Experienced probate attorneys can scrutinize fraudulent documents to look for errors. Identifying whether a fraudster deceived a testator into signing away their property may prove to be challenging for most people.
If you suspect estate planning fraud, you should speak with an experienced probate litigator as soon as possible to protect your rights.
What is Estate Planning Fraud?
Fraud can be committed in several ways during the estate planning process. Fraudulent inducements involve deceiving a person into leaving their property to someone they would not normally have left it to. For instance, if a bedridden elderly person suffering from dementia leaves their property to their nurse, it may be a case of fraudulent inducement.
You can also challenge the will if the testator was led to believe that they were signing another document, when in fact, it was a will. In the above example, the caregiver may have convinced the patient that the estate planning documents were birthday cards or medical forms.
Challenging a Will in California Based on Fraud
It can be difficult proving a loved one has been the victim of fraud in the estate planning process. You should consult with a seasoned litigator to get the will overturned. There are three primary elements to any claims of fraud:
You need to show that the perpetrator used false representation to make the testator sign the statement or make a change to the will. This element of fraud is often known as misrepresentation. Fraud representation doesn’t necessarily need to come from a third party outside the family. It may also occur if one of the children lies about a sibling to get a greater share of the property or have the sibling disinherited entirely.
Claims of fraud and undue influence among family members are fairly common. Unfortunately, showing that misrepresentation occurred is not as straightforward. You need to be able to prove that the statement made was false. It can be enough if you are able to show that the other person should have known that the statement was false.
Intent is a vital element in most areas of the law. It is not enough to simply show that the perpetrator lied to the testator. You will also need to show that the perpetrator intended for the testator to change the estate plan. For instance, if the nurse tells the patient that they will take care of her cats after her passing without ever intending to do it – and the patient puts her property in the nurse’s name for that reason, this can be termed as a misrepresentation and fraudulent inducement.
It can be difficult to prove intent, making it important to work with a qualified probate attorney. Your attorney will gather admissible evidence that helps in convincing the court of fraudulent intentions. This is why it’s crucial that you work with a reputable estate planning law firm with a proven track record.
You need to show that some degree of injury occurred because of the fraudster’s conduct. In the eyes of the law, merely an attempt to trick the testator into changing their estate plan is not injury enough. Fraudulent inducement claims often take place when the testator has died. The injured parties are usually the apparent heirs or representatives of the estate.
Attempts at fraudulent inducement are serious issues, but the injury needs to occur from a legal perspective. This means that the person that attempted to trick your loved one should actually have succeeded in deceiving them into changing the estate plans.
For instance, if you are the sole heir apparent of your mother’s property and you deceive your mother into signing a will that places the entirety of the estate in your name – the will may not be later set aside on the basis of fraud. This is because you were already the sole apparent heir. Even if other relatives come forward to claim a share in the property, it is highly likely that the court will find that no one was injured because of the deception or fraud.
The friend or relative that tries to challenge the will would likely face an uphill battle. It is important to prove that an injury to someone actually occurred for there to be a valid claim for fraudulent inducement.
There is nothing more upsetting than realizing that your loved one was tricked into signing away their property. You will need legal advice from a skilled attorney who can recognize fraud and take the necessary legal steps to protect your rights.
Get a Free Case Evaluation from Our Seasoned Estate Planning Attorneys
The proven attorneys at Garmo & Garmo, LLP know all the tricks and deceptions fraudsters may adopt to cheat you or someone you love of their property or estate. We have decades of litigation experience in helping victims of estate planning fraud get the justice they deserve. To set up your free case review with our lawyers, give us a call today at 619-441-2500 or contact us online.