The reason we create estate plans and wills is that we want to feel assured that our assets will pass on to the intended recipients. Unfortunately, our best-laid plans can go awry when Inheritance Hijacking occurs. One of the most frustrating things about inheritance theft is that it is often committed by relatives. This not only means that their actions can ruin family relations, but also that they are likely to get away with it if no proper measures are in place.
What Is Inheritance Hijacking?
“Inheritance hijacking” is a general term that describes several forms of behavior. Some of the more common of these are:
- Theft – Sometimes, valuables can disappear from a person’s home after they die. This can include not only burglary by a stranger but also family members deciding to grab a desired piece of jewelry or a favored collectible before another person has a chance to do so.
- Casting aspersions on fellow heirs – If an heir feels as though they should receive a larger portion of the estate than they are due to inherit, they may denigrate other heirs as a way of attempting to persuade you to change your will accordingly.
- Undocumented loans – If you loan money to a friend or a family member but there is no documentation of the transaction, the borrower can simply claim after your death that the money was a gift. Without a loan document in place, your heirs will have no way of recovering the loan that you made to that person.
- Fake wills – An heir or an advisor may also create a false will (or forge an amendment to a real will) in order to claim a larger portion of your estate.
How to Protect Your Estate
You can increase the odds that your assets reach the intended parties after you die if you take certain steps now.
For example, it can be useful to discuss your estate plan with all your intended heirs present at the same time. This way, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page, making it much more difficult for the various forms of will hijacking to occur.
Ensuring that you have an attorney involved who will also be able to assist the family can help keep conversations consistent, and diminish the ability for anyone to fabricate what was said or what was intended.
You may also want to appoint two executors to your estate. This can reduce the chances that anyone will abuse their position. It can be especially helpful to nominate a non-family professional as one of the two executors.
It is also worth considering giving assets to your heirs before you die. Not only will this keep family members from fighting over them after you are gone, but you will also get to witness your heirs enjoying your gifts while you are still around.
Speak with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
An estate plan that is prepared in collaboration with an experienced Santa Cruz will and trust attorney is much less susceptible to inheritance hijacking than one that you prepare yourself. A seasoned lawyer can help you arrange your estate plan in a way that protects your interests and those of your heirs, leaving far less room for confusion and making it much less likely that your will could be successfully contested. If you would like professional assistance with this process, we invite you to contact our Santa Cruz office or one of our offices located throughout the state of California by calling (800) 244-8814.