Asset Searches in Probate Cases

  • June 27, 2023
  • 4 min read

Asset Searches: Shedding Light on Probate Fraud

In today’s day and age, probate cases have become increasingly common and pose a significant challenge for investigative divisions. When someone passes away, their estate can often amount to hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars. It doesn’t take much to accumulate a substantial estate – a house, a few bank accounts, and a 401K can quickly add up to a million dollars. When multiple heirs are involved, it’s not uncommon for one of them to attempt to divert a larger share of the inheritance in their direction, sometimes at the expense of their siblings.

The motivations behind such actions may vary. Some heirs may rationalize their behavior by believing that they deserve more due to past grievances or a perceived imbalance in financial circumstances. However, if these justifications contradict the provisions outlined in the will, they are fundamentally incorrect. Similar to fraudsters and scammers who justify their actions, these individuals often find ways to justify taking more money than rightfully allocated.

A typical case that investigative divisions encounter involves one of the siblings contacting them when administering the estate after the death of their last parent. They express concerns about discrepancies between the expected assets and the actual assets discovered. This is where asset searching and tracing come into play. By conducting thorough investigations, hidden assets can be uncovered. These hidden assets may include a piece of real estate sold separately, a business asset transferred to someone else, or closed bank accounts with funds distributed through cashier’s checks.

The misappropriation of assets can occur regardless of the amount involved. Sometimes, it may involve relatively smaller assets, such as a classic car worth $30,000, which should have been included in the estate but was instead given away to a niece. Whether or not one decides to take action against such discrepancies is a personal choice. However, it is essential to remember that the deceased person’s wishes, as outlined in their will, should be honored. Their intent for the distribution of their assets forms a part of their legacy, and deviating from it undermines their intentions.

If you choose to redistribute the money to others as per your own preferences, it is crucial to ensure that the estate is initially distributed according to the will’s directives. Once the deceased person’s wishes have been honored, you can then make decisions about allocating portions of the inheritance to other individuals. However, it is paramount to prioritize the deceased person’s intentions and avoid enabling fraudulent behavior that could have broader negative consequences.

Probate fraud is far more prevalent than most people realize. In fact, it is the fastest-growing area of fraud investigations today. While corporate embezzlement and Ponzi schemes held the spotlight in the past, family law probate and divorce now dominate the field. Divorce cases often involve conflicts and attempts to secure additional financial gains. However, probate cases are uniquely challenging as they involve relatives, such as siblings and cousins, who are embroiled in emotional dynamics that can complicate matters further.

It is crucial to be aware of the prevalence of probate fraud and take steps to protect the integrity of estates. Almost every time an inquiry is made into a probate case, improper distribution of assets is discovered, often facilitated by the executor of the estate.

In conclusion, asset searches play a vital role in combating probate fraud and ensuring that the wishes of the deceased are honored. By uncovering hidden assets, these searches shed light on attempts to manipulate inheritances and protect the rightful distribution of estates. Understanding the common scenarios and motivations behind such actions allows us to safeguard the integrity of probate cases and prevent further potential harm.

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