Is Your Estate Thief-Proof?

October 26, 2009
Michael Sheehan

There are a growing number of inheritance thieves who can sidetrack your estate in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common thefts, along with advice from estate planners on how to avoid them.

You’ve made a will and named beneficiaries on all your accounts, which ought to be enough to guarantee that your assets go to your heirs in the way you want them to. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. There are a growing number of inheritance thieves, usually family members, who can sidetrack your estate in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common thefts, along with advice from estate planners on how to avoid them.

Outright theft is often committed by a family member who wants to grab a treasured possession before anyone else has the chance. Tip: To avoid this, make a list of your valuables and give it to all family members, along with designations, if possible, of who should get what. Then move any jewelry and other portable items to a safe deposit box. Another common tactic can arise from an undocumented loan given to a family member. Other heirs may not even know about the loan and, if they do, the debtor may deny that the loan was ever made or may claim that it was a gift. Tip: Document all loans and have them signed and witnessed. To prevent an heir who is upset over his/her potential share from possibly destroying your will and forging a new one, hand out copies of it to all your heirs and ask your attorney to keep copies on file

A good way to make sure that your assets go where you want them to is to give them to your heirs while you’re still alive. Large gifts can trigger tax consequences, however, so it’s best to talk to your accountant, attorney, or tax advisor before making any moves.