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  • Writer's pictureJerry Ipsen, CFE, MBA

Red Flags of Possible Probate Fraud

Executors or trustees, in particular the dishonest ones who seize upon the opportunity, regardless of the terms of the will or trust, manipulate the accounting, unfairly liquidate, or fraudulently transfer assets for their own personal gain are most likely committing fraud. Below is a list of red flags commonly known as warning signs of possible probate fraud. While each by itself is not proof of a fraud, they do raise suspicion and warrant investigation.


Red flags of possible probate fraud: Factors that deserve attention

Any changes to the will?


· Did the deceased change their will shortly before they died, naming new beneficiaries, or included people unknown to family members?

· Did the deceased seek legal advice in making the new will, or create a homemade or online will?

· Could the deceased have been unduly influenced or coerced into changing their will, or have no knowledge that their will had been changed?

· Could the will have been forged?


Were changes observed in the deceased’s financial behavior before death?


· Did the loved one before passing make any unusual or unaccountable cash withdrawals or bank transfers prior to death?

· Were unauthorized bank withdrawals found to be made following death?

· Were any significant withdrawals made when the deceased was physically or mentally unable to do so?

· Was another person, possibly unknown to the family added to the decedent’s bank account prior to death?

· Was an ‘unexpected’ attorney appointed prior to death?

· Were the decedents bills found to be unpaid for several months prior to death?

· Are there suspicious debts or loans in question?


Post-death, missing property, scams, odd phone calls, even strange emails


· Have personal items such as family heirlooms, jewelry or other assets of value been removed from the home of the deceased that you have recently become aware of?

· Have the beneficiaries been contacted by people purporting to be the attorney or executor?

· Have there been claims for payment of taxes or funds owed to unknown third parties?


What to do if probate fraud is suspected


· First, examine previous wills and notes to determine if unknown changes had been made that would warrant further investigation.

· Compare signatures of the will with previous wills signed by the deceased. Changes of dates and the location of signing could be indicators of possible fraud.

· Are there witnesses unknown to the beneficiary on any of the new or recent wills – would they have been known to the deceased?

· Have you noticed any suspicious activity on the deceased’s bank accounts, before or after their passing?

· If necessary, report the matter to the police, but definitely contact a good probate attorney.


While mistakes and oversights do happen, if you have a feeling that something isn’t right, you should take appropriate action to investigate. While a delay may result in disgruntled beneficiaries, especially those waiting for a quick distribution, it is far better to deal with a bad situation than to suffer a fraud?


About the author

Jerry Ipsen, CFE, MBA is a Certified Fraud Examiner experienced in private investigations, business, real estate, forensic accounting and elder financial abuse.





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