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How To Protect Yourself Against Probate Fraud

It may be hard to believe, but every year around £150 million is lost by people cheating the dead via probate fraud.  This figure is provided by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), who also stated that around 50% of Solicitors questioned confirmed they had encountered fraudulent cases within the last year.

Probate fraud can be committed by family members, but also organised criminal gangs who focus on diverting funds away from beneficiaries.

14 December 2020
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How is probate fraud committed?

Similar to conveyancing fraud, probate fraud is often committed during the transfer of funds from the Solicitor to the beneficiary.  This is why law firms are diligent about checking client IDs at the start of every new instruction.  Far from a check-box exercise, ID checks are a crucial part of the process in preventing probate fraud.

Online money transfers make it easy for fraud to occur.  But dishonesty can arise whilst the deceased is still alive, for example, a vulnerable person suddenly changes their Will, leaving a bulk of their estate to a non-family member such as a carer who they have only known for a short time.

STEP states the reason probate fraud occurs is that committing it is “too easy”.  Under UK law, beneficiaries are not permitted to view the accounts of an estate as it is prepared for and passes through probate.  Although the executor must respond to beneficiaries’ questions, it is easy for them to deceive as to the true state of affairs.  Beneficiaries must therefore remain alert to possible fraud.

  • Probate fraud red flags include:
  • large transfers of money or property
  • the disappearance of valuable items
  • unusual or unexpected changes to the Will just before the testator’s death
  • someone else’s name appearing on bank accounts
  • a relative or friend assuming responsibility for the testator’s finances but leaving bills unpaid
  • suspicious emails purporting to be from the executor or probate Solicitor just prior to a funds transfer

You may also simply have a gut feeling that things are not quite right.  In almost every case of probate fraud we have dealt with, someone will say something along the lines of “I knew suspicious things were happening, but I could not put my finger on what it was”.  Don’t ignore red flags or your misgivings.  Talk to a Solicitor, who will listen to your concerns in complete confidence and subtly make inquiries to see if your instincts are correct.

Such inquiries may include:

  • obtaining all copies of the Will
  • talking to the witnesses of the Will
  • acquiring medical records and statements from the testator’s doctor and/or care home staff
  • find out if the testator understood the details and consequences of the Will

The importance of making a Will

Dying intestate (without a Will) provides a greater opportunity for probate fraud to occur.  It ensures that the executors and beneficiaries are set out clearly in a legal document.

Final words

Instructing a probate Solicitor reduces the chances of fraud.  Not only are they independent of the family, but they will also advise and assist the executor in their duties and responsibilities.  Furthermore, they have processes and procedures in place to prevent criminals intercepting transfers of funds.

Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey.  We have a highly experienced private client team who can assist you with all Wills and Probate matters.  To make an appointment, please call us on 01932 840 111.