Los Angeles residents anxious about a trust or probate lawsuit call us for advice, reassurance and oftentimes assistance in investigating individuals suspected of estate wrongdoing or theft. This happens with enough frequency that I feel called upon to write about probate swindlers, estate crooks, and perpetrators of elder financial abuse. What often tugs at the attention of our clients before they call us is a mix of suspicious circumstances pointing to "something is amiss" - "things just don't smell right." Such circumstances are usually heavily cloaked in secrecy, non-communication, miscommunication or even threats.
When it comes to estate disputes in the Los Angeles area, transparency helps to dispel doubt. Probate proceedings and Court oversight of trusts present certain statutory mandates as to disclosure. That said, a statutory mandate is only as good as the compliance of those subject to the mandate.
I worked on my first California Will Contest in 1977 - now almost 40 years ago. While the years have dimmed my memory, I do remember the first time that I actually encountered a probate swindler - or an estate crook. While I can't recall specifics - even names - after this many years, I do recall my shock at discovering an estate fraud engineered by a swindler. I also recall that the problems of proof were so great that the case ultimately settled without the fraud case ever being presented to a Court.
Now, many years later, I've seen many cases where "something is amiss" and "things just don't smell right." Rather than describe the particular or repeat circumstances where estate fraud seems endemic, the better observation is that "If You See Something, Say SomethingTM." While probate, trust and estate crooks might not be terrorists, the damage that they wreak upon American families is terrible and worthy of our contempt.
The "See Something, Say Something" admonition is directed to raising public awareness of the indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime. When it comes to estate wrongdoing and elder financial abuse, the red flags include:
- The failure of a trustee to disclose material information to beneficiaries;
- Self dealing;
- Mix of trust assets with personal assets;
- Accounting anomalies;
- False invoices;
- Questionable handwriting;
- Entries with no documentary support;
- Living lifestyles far beyond what they can reasonably afford; and
Remember that every fraud consists of three elements:
- The actual fraud, theft or taking;
- Secrecy to achieve the subsequent concealment; and
- The conversion (the taking of another's property for one's own use).
Sometimes estate fraud is very difficult to discern or identify. Other times it's as though the wrongdoer has a flashing red light on his or her head identifying the wrongdoing. Whether fully cloaked or obvious, estate swindlers should be made accountable. The simple truth is that it is a choice to seek accountability - a choice left to the wronged heirs or beneficiaries.
If you're a Los Angeles-area estate heir or trust beneficiary whose rights have been violated, now is the time to take action. Call us at Hackard Law - our main mission is to protect clients and their families from wrongdoers who commit fraud and elder abuse. We can also pursue litigation on a contingency basis, so that we are paid only if and when you obtain recovery. Our number is 213-357-5200. We look forward to speaking with you.