Drafting and executing a valid last will and testament is one of the most basic and essential steps to take to ensure your wishes will be carried out after you die. It is common for people to amend their wills several times over the years in order to accurately reflect their estate and their wishes. It is also common for family members or caretakers to assist an aging or infirm relative with making sure that a will is properly in place. Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous people who will take advantage of vulnerable seniors to try to coerce the testator into changing a will. Some will even go so far as to create a fraudulent will. There are some red flags of fraud or coercion in a will that you should keep in mind.
One red flag is that the testator relies on a major or sole beneficiary of the will for essential things such as food, clothing, shelter, or medical care. Seniors will frequently have some help to make sure their daily needs are met, but in some cases, the caretaker will use that position of power to force the testator to change his or her will by threatening to withhold necessary care.
Another red flag for coercion or fraud is that a will excludes spouses, children, or other very close family members without an apparent reason or explanation. Similarly, a will may give one of these people a disproportionately large share of the estate. Although testators are certainly free to make an unequal distribution of their assets, if the sudden exclusion of relatives is surprising or out of the blue, it is often a sign that the will may not reflect the true wishes of the testator.
One of the largest red flags for fraud is that the will is not properly witnessed, or those who witnessed the will stand to benefit greatly from it. Alternatively, the witnesses may all be close friends or family members of a person who does stand to inherit a substantial portion of the estate.
Finally, missing property of the testator that is otherwise specifically listed in the will can be a red flag. In the same vein, a testator giving away large gifts in the years immediately preceding his or her death, often to the same person, can be a sign there is something wrong.
Proving fraud or coercion in a will is difficult, but we have helped many clients with these types of difficult cases. Call us today at (651) 371-9117 and let us help you.