What is estate planning fraud, and how can I avoid it?

When you create an estate plan, your goal is to ensure that your wishes will be honored when you pass on and that the probate process will be as stress-free as possible. Ideally, a properly written will and other estate planning tools can help address most questions and potential controversies during the probate process. But what happens when fraud is detected in your estate plan?

Fraud in estate planning happens when someone submits an improper will or other estate planning document to deceive the court. Estate planning fraud can be detected and prevented when you know what to look for and take the appropriate steps to secure your estate plan.

So what makes an estate plan document fraudulent?

An estate plan is a legal document that speaks on your behalf when incapacitated or dead. Here are a few ways you can detect estate planning fraud:

Forged signatures

An estate plan document is considered fraudulent if it is signed by anyone other than the person who created it. In a situation where the testator requires assistance with making their “signature” or “mark” on a will, such assistance must be offered at the direction of the testator. Besides, North Carolina law states that the testator must sign their will in the presence of at least two witnesses who must also append their signatures on the will document.

Undue influence

Undue influence happens when an individual is persuaded, intimidated or deceived by another person to change their estate plan document against their will. This is quite common among the elderly as well as wealthy individuals. One of the common signs of undue influence is when the testator suddenly cuts off communication with the family and instead opts to spend most of their time with a new person, who they then include as a beneficiary in the estate plan.

Estate planning fraud can happen. One of the best approaches you can use to prevent estate planning fraud is to have an honest and transparent conversation about your wishes with your loved ones. That can allow them to spot it early. If they do, understanding the legal options to deal with it will be crucial.