How to Stop Thefts from Elders and the Dead

Updated  7/17/16

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Preventing thefts and recovering assets stolen from vulnerable adults, elders and the dead has been the focus of my elder law practice for the past decade. These forms of thefts are a problem not only in my home state of Vermont, but throughout our country, and in the world at large.

After more than 10 years of handling theft cases in my practice, this is my conclusion:

Thieves who target the elderly and the dead are relentless, cunning, and patient in their pursuit of the money of others. They are predators. Vulnerable adults, especially elders with dementia who are alone in the world, are perfect targets for theft and need our protection.

I offer this post to help readers understand the ways in which predators steal from vulnerable adults or estates, what can be done to prevent these types of thefts, and how and who to report a suspected theft to.

This is a long post because this topic best explained with case examples. Please bear with me; I think this information may be helpful to you or those you love.

Just How Much is Stolen from Vulnerable Elders?

A recent report by True Link Financial on Elder Financial Abuse in 2015 estimates that $19 billion is lost annually to fraud by criminals and abuse of trust by friends, family members, and paid helpers.

It is also estimated that 954,000 seniors are currently skipping meals as a direct result of being the victim of some form of financial abuse.

For more information on the financial losses due to theft from vulnerable elders, you can go to

Unfortunately, I cannot find any verified data on the dollar amounts stolen from estates (guardianship or probate estates). Probate courts do not collect and archive this type of financial data nationally.

What Is Stolen?

Thefts from the dead fall into two basic categories:

1) Theft from the body of a dead person; and

2) Theft of property and/or money from their home and estate.

It just so happens that thefts from vulnerable adults and elders also fall into two basic categories:

1.) Theft of property, including homes deeded over, cars retitled, medication (especially narcotic pain medications that can be sold for cash), art work or jewelry taken without the knowledge or the consent of the elder, or taken from an elder through coercion or intimidation or undue influence; and

2) Theft of financial assets such as: taking cash or draining bank accounts; running up credit card balances or getting new cards in the elder’s name; stealing IRS refunds; stealing Social Security retirement or disability checks; stealing pension payments; defrauding elders into investing in businesses that don’t exist; coercing an elder into co-signing a loan at a bank; getting elders to buy expensive cars and jewelry and making “gifts” to the abuser. Frankly, the list is endless in this category.

Who is stealing from the elderly and the dead?

Strangers steal from elders and the dead. Family members steal from elderly and dead relatives. Friends steal from dead friends. Agents under a document known as a Power of Attorney steal from vulnerable adults and elders who have asked them to manage their assets. Legal Guardians appointed by probate courts steal from vulnerable adults they are supposed to protect. Executors or Administrators of estates, or legal heirs steal from estates.

Theft from vulnerable elders and the dead is an equal opportunity crime.

And you don’t have to be a millionaire to be a target for theft. As you will see in the examples below, anyone and any estate can be a target for theft.

It’s also important to know that theft from the dead is not a victim-less crime. When people steal from a dead or dying person, they are stealing from a widow or widower, from the deceased’s children and relations, and from the community. For example, if there are no funds to bury a body, then the local taxpayers pick up the tab for cremation and burial, unless the family or friends step up to bear the costs.

Let’s consider the following examples of how theft occurs.

Theft of property from the dead

  1. In Florida, a funeral home employee stole the wedding band and engagement ring off a dead woman a few days before Christmas in 2013.
  2. In another Florida case in August of 2014, a funeral home employee went into a home to transport a deceased elderly woman to the funeral home. When he came out of the bedroom with the body he had a gold chain hanging from his pants pocket. The police, who had been called to the deceased’s home at the time of death, took notice of that chain hanging from the funeral home employee’s pocket and quickly confronted the man and recovered the deceased’s jewelry on the spot. The man had taken approximately $1,000 of jewelry from the deceased’s bedroom. It’s reported that the jewelry had been on a bureau in plain sight.

These cases are not confined to Florida. Sadly, these types of thefts happen every day in every state and in every country.

Theft of money from the dead

  1. In August 2014, a homeless man died shortly after receiving a $20,000 inheritance from his parent’s estate. Shortly thereafter, he died. The day after he was found dead, his close friend convinced an acquaintance who worked at the deceased’s bank to transfer $18,000 from the deceased’s account into the friend’s account. After a tip from the deceased’s family about the recent inheritance, the police investigating the death went to the bank and the illegal transfer was identified and the money was recovered.
  2. In July 2013, a funeral home worker took personal banking information, as well as a debit card and credit cards, off the body of a man he was transporting. He quickly withdrew more than $5,000 from the deceased’s bank account and charged nearly $1,000 on the credit card. The widow immediately reported these thefts and unauthorized charges after making a visit to the bank. The thefts were traced back to the funeral home employee. In fact, the thief was seen on bank video going into the deceased’s bank for the withdrawals and then driving away in the funeral home’s van with the company logo on the side.

Thefts from Estates

After a death, family, friends, even the courts supervising an estate of a dead person, can fall victim to financial predators who know how to use the disability or death of a member of the community to their benefit.

For example, I worked on a recent Vermont case where a local businessman was appointed as the administrator of an estate of a woman who died without any family or friends. Using his position as a court appointed administrator, he stole money from the deceased’s brokerage account and her money market account for his personal use. Ultimately, he was reported to the F.B.I. for that crime and pled guilty.

When confronted by the F.B.I. with this estate theft, the man confessed to an additional crime. It seems he was also receiving a dead man’s pension payments for the prior 3 years. Many years earlier, the thief had befriended an elderly man. The thief convinced the man to name him as sole heir, and became joint tenant with right of survivorship on the man’s checking account – the account into which his pension payment was electronically deposited. When the elderly man died, this younger “friend” never reported the death to the pension plan administrator, even though he had been appointed as executor of this man’s estate. He continued to receive the funds each month for 3 years. This instance of pension fraud came to light when he was caught in his second theft involving a dead person.

Also worthy of mention here are the various forms of thefts from vulnerable adults, especially those with dementia. These kinds of thefts are all too common.

In my own law practice I have seen cases where:

  1. Elders are befriended by total strangers, who then move into their home and ultimately get title to valuable real estate through undue influence;
  2. A valuable house was sold from a guardianship estate without the court approval prior to sale as required by law. The house had been sold by the Guardian, and the proceeds did not come back into the guardianship estate;
  3. A family member of an elder tried to get named as joint tenant owner on bank accounts and CDs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This attempt was quickly stopped by the bank managers and the elder’s attorneys. In this same case, when the family member failed to get control of the elder’s wealth through banking channels, the relative planned to kidnap the elder, take them to another state and put them under guardianship so the relative could then “take” the elder’s wealth. That kidnapping plot was also stopped by the elder’s legal counsels.
  4. An in-home caregiver of a married elderly couple stole funds by using a VISA credit card to purchase store gift cards he then redeemed through a California company that paid .90 cents on the dollar. The credit card had been entrusted to the caregiver for the sole purpose of buying groceries and household supplies. The caregiver stole over $90,000 through this one scam. He also activated credit cards in the names of the elders and ran up large balances on those cards. He created and used an online identity to steal all funds from a money market account owned by one of the elders. He also coerced the elders into signing as guarantors for over $105,000 in student loans and $25,000 in personal loans. He is also believed to have stolen valuable rings during his tenure as a live-in caregiver. He is serving time in a federal prison for these acts.
  5. A grandchild stole their grandparent’s credit card while serving as their caregiver. She ran up the balance of the card by purchasing store gift cards and, it is believed, redeeming the gift cards for money to purchase drugs. This was the second time this grandchild had committed this type of theft from her grandparents.
  6. A person coming into a home to clean was caught stealing pain medication from the bathroom medicine cabinet. Certain types of prescription medications, especially narcotic pain medications, can be sold for $25 or more for just one tablet (e.g. Oxycontin, Vicodin are popular medicines to steal from unsuspecting adults and elders).


How to prevent thefts before and after you die?

Talk to your lawyer about the following issues, and any others of concern to you, and come up with a plan to protect your assets, both before your death and after your death. If you do not have a lawyer, please find one who understands these issues (usually an estate planning attorney or elder law attorney) and make an appointment to have this discussion.

Here are just a few of the critical issues to talk to your lawyer about:

  1. Ask the lawyer to advise you on how to pick someone you can trust to manage your estate upon your death. Make sure the person you select knows of your concerns to safeguard your possessions, property and money. Make a solid plan for how your property is to be distributed upon your death.
  2. Talk with your attorney about how to secure your paperwork and electronic data in your home, both financial and legal documents. Have your lawyer, or in some states the probate court, keep your original will. Make sure you safeguard the original documents that detail your estate plan so they are never lost or destroyed. And talk about what documents you may want or need to place into a lock box or safe deposit box, such as income tax returns, any paperwork that bears your date of birth and social security number, electronic storage devices that back up your home computer, and bank statements.
  3. Talk with your lawyer about your state’s laws that govern bank accounts and how best to safeguard those accounts. Please think twice about having other people on your bank accounts as joint tenants. Why? Because anyone listed as an owner on a joint account can, at ANY time, take all funds in the account due to their right of ownership. Talk with your lawyer about whether or not you should have other people named on your accounts as joint owners, or whether you should create a Power of Attorney account.
  4. Go see your lawyer if you feel you need someone to pay your bills and manage your financial life as you age, or to support you in those areas (e.g. hiring a bookkeeper). They may suggest appointing a fiduciary, either an Agent under a Power of Attorney, a Trustee under a form of Trust, or undergoing a voluntary financial guardianship, to serve you and keep you and your finances safe.
  5. Talk with your lawyer about how to make sure that anyone serving as your Agent or Guardian, Trustee or bookkeeper, has to report to you and account for your money and how it is being used on a routine (monthly/quarterly) schedule. If you are using someone else to manage your money and pay your bills, you could also ask your lawyer or accountant or financial advisor to review with you how your money is being spent by this Agent or Guardian at least twice a year – as it should only be spent for your benefit. If your lawyer sees something wrong with how money is being managed, they can advise you immediately on what actions you can take to correct the problem.
  6. Talk with your lawyer about how to lock down your credit and make it difficult for anyone to steal your identity before or after your death. What steps can be taken? You might check out any of the credit protection services that are now available, e.g. Lifelock, to protect your credit while you are alive. In addition, your Executor or Trustee should report your death to the credit reporting agencies immediately, as well as reporting a death immediately to the banks and any financial institution holding accounts for you. These are important steps to take to keep your legacy safe.
  7. Conduct or put together a complete inventory of your valued possessions, and get appraisals on valuable items. Make sure your lawyer/executor/trustee/children or heirs have that inventory, or know where it is, so that if something goes missing, they can know. Video inventories are also good to have if you have any items of significant value.

Here are some additional actions you can take to protect yourself and your property now:

  1. If you shop on the internet, as many elders do, get a lower limit credit card that you use solely for internet shopping purposes. This is recommended so that if someone gets to your card number through hacking a database or they steal or misuse that card, they can’t run up a big credit card balance.
  2. Place valuable jewelry in a safe deposit box, or at least a safe locked place out of view from visitors to your home (e.g. home care workers, cleaners). This is especially important for jewelry you are not wearing regularly.
  3. Review your homeowner’s policy with your insurance agent to see if it covers thefts from your home after your death, while your estate is in probate or is being managed in trust. If you have placed your home in a trust, check with your homeowner’s policy to make sure that your policy is titled correctly to provide coverage to the trust in case of theft from your home.
  4. Ask your lawyer or financial advisor how best to protect your spouse from becoming a victim of fraud or theft after your death. Widows and widowers are targets for every type of con artist/scam there is. From the lottery scams (where caller says you won the lottery, usually in a foreign country, but you have to wire funds to pay the taxes before you get your proceeds), to romance scams, to the undue influence of “poor” neighbors/strangers, we’ve seen it all. If you are concerned at all about the safety of your spouse if you anticipate you will die first, please talk with your lawyer, your children, or your financial advisor about how to use your estate plan to safeguard your spouse and their finances after your death.
  5. If you have pain medications stored in your medicine cabinet that you are no longer using, please dispose of them properly. If you need pain medication daily, think about dedicating a drawer that can be locked as the storage place for those medicines. It’s a good idea to clear out your medicine cabinet every 6 months.

These are just some highlights to think about and talk about with your estate planner, insurance agent, financial advisor and your family or close friends. The details are up to you, your family, your circle of friends, and your lawyer to sort out if you want to engage in planning to secure your property before and after you die.

Reporting a Theft

If you or someone you love is a victim of theft by a stranger, a caregiver, another member of the family, an  Agent under a Power of Attorney, or  Legal Guardian, please report the theft as soon as you have reasonable proof of theft or valid reason to suspect the misuse of funds or property  (e.g. a bank account statement, a missing car, credit card bills that show high balances or increased activity that is not consistent with how the elder spends money, missing Social Security or pension payments).

Report stolen Social Security monies to the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (

Report stolen pension checks to the pension fund administrator, to the bank where the elder usually has the checks deposited, and you can also call your state adult protective services office, and the local police.

Report ongoing exploitation or any form of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) by a stranger, caregiver or family member to local police and to your state adult protective services agency.

Report suspected abuse of an elder’s banking accounts to the bank or banks the elder uses. The banks conduct their own investigations on fraud and also report to the police when they find issues.

Report abuse of a credit card or a fraudulent card to the credit card company. Usually you have to have the elder on the phone with you to do this directly with the credit card company, OR you have to prove that you are the Guardian or Agent of the elder in order to speak for them with the credit card company.

Please make a plan and take the steps necessary to keep yourself or your loved ones safe from financial exploitation.



  1. Trying to see what can be done about my aunt neighbor. Having credit cards in her name she cancel out one that I knew about .someone have a car in her name .I was told the theft was not done to me This was done before she passway .I just found out about it

    1. Please contact a lawyer in your town/city to see what can be done. Usually, you have to go to probate court and open an estate and bring a suit against the person who took the belongings of the dead, but that costs money. If there was a theft, it was against your aunt, not you – so the only way to speak for her is to become her executor or administrator through court appointment. I hope that helps. Again, contact a lawyer in your town to see what can be done. Best wishes to you –

      1. My grandmother died less than a week ago. She was in the hospital for 2 mths prior. One of her daughters had access to her house. The other didn’t. As we did a walk through of the house today I noticed MANY items were taken/removed/missing. Including things thay were my own.The daughter with access is denying taking them. I consider this to be theft of estate as she had/has not been authorized by anyone to take/remove anything. What can I do legally?

        1. Hi Jacqueline, you should ask if there is going to be a probate court process, tell your grandmother’s attorney about items that are missing in writing, ask if there is a will. Usually a grandparent will leave their possessions to their children, not their grandchildren, so your parent may have to be the one to raise the flag on this as you may not have “standing”. Again, I encourage you to voice your concerns in writing to the attorney who will handle any probate process. So very sorry for the emotional pain this causes everyone – maybe your parent and the other siblings can confront the daughter who took the items and make her return them? Best of luck to you!

        2. I have fought my brother for 14 months over my mothers estate. Have won some but $20k of jewelery is now missing. He even tried to hide the rest from me even though he signed it over to me in a Deed Agreement. After another 3 weeks, no proof. He gets away with it. My Aunty has been at the house also many times, so another suspect. Hard to know if she would or wouldnt. I personally could not do such a thing. My only coping mechanism is to remember it was never my stuff and do we actually need it? Set yourself free and enjoy the memories of the beloved.

          1. That’s a great attitude to take, Chris. These are just things, right? But I get that it’s the “stuff” of someone you love and having items they cherished in your possession makes the connection seem to last. But in family fights in probate it’s not really about the items or money at all. These conflicts become a test of honesty and trust. Once you lose trust in a family member to be honest and deal fairly, you have to rethink your entire relationship with them. But you’ve found a great coping strategy – let go, but always remember what you learned about your family members so you can protect yourself going forward.

      2. I went to see a lawyer for a similar case that was done to me and after 10k +was used up,nothing was done so where to go from there but to give up when she cleaned up the estate.I don’t have the money to pursue any further,so she got away with it and the lawyer bled me for all he could

        1. Mary Ann, I’m so sorry you had such a bad experience with a theft from an elder or estate, and with a lawyer. One way to approach these cases is to ask the lawyer up front for a step by step plan on what can be done and ask them to approximate what each step would cost in terms of their time and your dollars. Also ask about their experience in recovering assets. The other option is always to report thefts from vulnerable adults to your State adult protective services agency – they are a free, state government agency that investigates both financial and physical abuse/neglect of vulnerable adults. The other option if you suspect theft from a vulnerable adult is to go to the police and file a report. Usually you need some evidence (bank statements, cancelled checks) to file a report. If this was a theft from an estate or guardianship, you can report your concerns to the court staff/judge with a letter and supporting evidence. Again, so sorry you had this experience.

  2. Due to Stage 4 colon cancer my husband lost his fight on May 12th 2015. In July of 2015 I received documents from Wells Fargo Bank about overdraft fees. I had no knowledge of this account so off to the bank I go. I found out that my husband had been receiving pension payments since 2013.After reviewing the bank statements from June 2013-2015, the 1st check issued was approximately $1200.00. His daughter used starter checks to withdraw the money. The initial check was made out to “cash” for $700 and an additional check for $400.00 made out to herself in her own handwriting. This criminal behavior had been transpiring since 2013.

    After all starter checks were depleted, she began using a debit card she requested to make store/dining purchases and cash withdrawals for her own personal pleasures.essentially depleted all funds and overdrew the account. She continued to use the card the day of my husbands passing, even weeks thereafter. Once i contacted the Pension company they had already spoken with his daughter which she informed them of his death and request survial beniftis. They reversed the June payment and explained the law entires wife for such benifits and on the form that was completed for the benifits it indicated no wife, (i think she completed these forms) I never saw or sign any thing of this nature. The pension company told me she requested any documents be mailed to her address.(so I would not be aware of theses benefits.
    His daughter’s greed and entitlement is how I found out. The law states that the wife is entitled to benefits even after death.

    Now I have to expend extensive hours and cost clearing up Carl’s compromised pension and financial records. The reality is, his daughter made the choice to commit fraud without thinking of the ramifications of her actions; she tried to hide the fact that benefits were being disbursed her actions are criminal. We had a minor child which could use any survial beniftis to pay for college.

    I only recently got a letter from the pension company, and they have requested documents from the state of florida…(I quess the death cert. etc.) I recently got a letter from IRS requesting payment for out standing taxes on that money that was not reported on his taxes over 6k……she refuses to talk to me, and her father in law clms the monthly payments my hubsand allowed her to use to help out and he is not here to answer to possible fraud. I feel if it was gifts why did she not report the money on her taxes the last 2 years. please give me your scope on this problem and do you believe I will recover the survial benifits and what opions for his daughter….thanks inadvance. ( I have no ideal how much money )

    1. I am so sorry to hear of your husband’s death and this situation with a pension account. You need a lawyer in your state who can handle financial exploitation/elder law work. Check out, that’s the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys, they have elder law attorneys listed by zip code. If your husband’s daughter’s name was not on that account as a joint owner, then I think you have solid ground to bring a complaint. Wells Fargo should also allow you to file a fraud complaint, and there may be bank insurance to pay your claim against the bank for allowing someone other than the owner of the account to withdraw funds. You should talk with your lawyer about the potential for a criminal case, either state or federal law enforcement should be able to advise you/your lawyer on whether there are criminal charges that could be investigated here – e.g. money/wire fraud for writing checks off the account. You can also talk to a lawyer about appealing the IRS demand for payment of income taxes on the money. I am so sorry this has happened to you and your family. But I want to thank you for sharing what I’m sure is a very painful experience. Best of luck to you in recovering either from the bank (if she was not a joint owner on the account and they processed the checks), or from her.

  3. My 79 year old friend died over 2 years ago leaving a large financial estate with no family related survivors. His $300,000 home has remained vacant since his death with no attempts at selling or renting the property. The vacant house is being maintained by a trust attorney whom i am unable to identify or contact in any manner. The estate at death was of great value as i was told by my friend who was a philanthropist.

    1. Your friend created the trust that now owns his home, and the trustee must manage the trust per your friend’s wishes and directives of your friend’s private trust document. One way of contacting a trustee is to just send a letter addressed to “Trustee of (your friend’s name), and mail it to the address of the house. I guarantee you, all mail going to that home address is being redirected to the Trustee. A trustee, however, is bound by the terms of the trust and may not respond to you or tell you anything because you are not a beneficiary of the trust, otherwise he would have been in contact with you long before now. With no family, your friend may have left all of his money to his favorite charities. Whoever the trust beneficiaries are, they are the only ones with legal standing who can oversee the actions of the trustee. The good news here is your friend set up a solid plan to distribute his assets upon his death – but that can take time when dealing with different kinds of assets (real property, stocks, etc). You are a good friend to keep an eye out on what is happening. But again, it’s up to the beneficiaries of the trust to monitor the situation and the actions of the trustee.

  4. My father recently passed I Florida. He wanted his things split between his five children. My sister conspired with my mom (his ex wife) and entered his home and stole 200 thousand dollars he had in a safe. I’m really hurt but I want to respect my dads last wishes. What can I do?

    1. Hi Greg, I am so sorry to hear that happened to you and your siblings, this type of behavior breaks families apart. My best suggestion is that you either report this to the Executor of the Estate. If there is no estate open, then find a lawyer who knows probate litigation in the county in which your father lived and ask them if there is any potential for recovery. The other option is to go to the local police station and talk with an officer. The problem is going to be proving the theft of cash – hard to trace, and nearly impossible to prove. Is there any way all of you together could sit down and talk with these women about their behavior? Again, I am so sorry to hear this happened within your family. Please take care of yourself in all of this –

  5. My mom passed July 20,she was 84. I’ve found proof that my step dad had been having an active relationship with another woman for over 11 years, he s named on a business venture at her home address and 21/2 years ago the home they lived in 30 was foreclosed on, I moved then in with me. ..he’s 70. I meet with a lawyer this week, is there a chance I could recover anything for her estate for my siblings and myself, to her honor and dignity?

    1. Hi Louella, I’m so sorry that you are facing this situation with your stepfather. The best thing you can do is find a lawyer who knows probate, and let your lawyer guide you through your home state laws regarding estate administration. I hope you will take care of yourself in this process because grief can be overwhelming and make us do things we normally would not do – like enter into litigation that in the end doesn’t yield the justice we seek. Someone wise once told me that the only two people who know what is going on in a marriage are the two people IN the marriage. I hope you find peace with what sounds like a very painful situation.

  6. I lost my mother in the first week of July 2016.
    She had two sons. Myself and my brother. her intentions were to leave everything to my brother and I 50/50, which he and I have been settling up with without argument or contest.

    However; a couple of days after my mom’s services a letter from one of her credit card issuers came. The letter asked for my mom to contact them. the tone seems urgent. I immediately called the credit card company and informed them my mom had passed several weeks earlier. During the conversation I asked the c/s agent had there been any activity on the card since her passing. From this inquiry we 9my brother and I,) discovered that the card had indeed been used immediately after her death and continued to be used for about a week after, to the tune of about 3,000.00.

    This alarming news prompted me to contact her other credit card companies, which also said there had been post death activity on both of them as well. All three card companies told me they were going to close the accounts, and that those post death charges would not be posted to her estate.

    I tried to file a complaint with the local sheriff’s dept. But was told they could not pursue the matter because I had to show them proof that I am the administrator of the estate.

    In addition; her car was taken last week. the sheriff’s deputy I talked with said that even with the car he could not file the complaint, for the same reason.

    PS; The car was supposed to go to my brother, who lives in Boston, Mass.

    what other avenues can to take to pursue a criminal complaint against the person who used her credit cards and taken her vehicle?

    1. Hi Marcario, the police officer is right, in order to “speak” for your Mom, you and/or your brother need to go to probate court and file a petition to open an estate (the type of estate will depend on if your Mom had a written will) in order to file a criminal complaint against the person(s) who used her credit cards and took her car. Only if you are the Executor or Administrator of her estate can you take action. Please contact the probate court in the county in which your Mom lived and ask for their help in getting started. It’s the only way law enforcement and insurance (car insurance against theft?) will talk with you and help you. You have my sincere condolences – your loss is heavy and you should not have to deal with theft of a car and identity theft for the use of credit cards on top of your loss. I am so sorry to hear this happened to your family. Once you are the Executor or Administrator, you might get counsel from a probate attorney or at least get some advice about how to lock down your Mom’s credit and certainly notify Social Security Administration (to stop her SS check each month) and any pension payments she was getting. It sounds like the person(s) doing this have her social security number/birthdate and other information that would allow them to divert automatic deposits of Social Security and pension checks.

      1. Thank you Paula. My brother and I were able to stop her Social Security payments, and retirement fund. I have settled her utilitiy bills, and credit card balances.

        The only thing I am unable to do at this point is to cancel her auto insurance and file a complaint against the perpetrator.

        I will follow your suggestion and seek counsel from a probate attorney.

        Thank you for your insight and advice. You have been most wonderful.

        1. So happy this little blog could be of help to you – take good care!

  7. Paula, Our neighbor Edith in Hilton Head, SC was hospitalized and has a home, car, contents worth about 700K with no mortgage. Her renting neighbor had POA papers drawn and signed in in exchange of watching her dog while she was in the hospital. The renting neighbor hid her from seeing any neighbors, friends, and financial handlers during this time. We believe Edith died but can’t find a death certificate. The renting neighbor has taken her bank accounts, car, and now the house was transferred for $1 and shows a deed noted as deceased. She is also in the house daily and looks to be preparing for sale or rent. Probate has no record of death as it was not turned in. The neighbor has effectively stolen her entire estate. Edith only had a god son in CA and no other living relatives. The police can’t get involved as the legal papers show in order although Edith had no intention of giving her entire estate to a neighbor. Who do we report this huge crime to? Probate, Legal Aide, and other avenues haven’t helped. We can’t spend money for an attorney but this is a crime. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Christin, this is such a sad story, that a human being could “disappear” and her possessions be taken by a person who, allegedly, financially exploited an elderly woman living alone without family or friends to protect her. Unfortunately, the only people with “standing” to bring any kind of complaint in this scenario are legal heirs to your neighbor, Edith. So either Edith’s siblings, their offspring, or cousins, need to get involved in reporting theft of an estate they would have had legal right to (if there is no will). Unfortunately, this happens every day to people who live and age alone, without close friends, or close advisers (accountants, lawyers). The lesson here is important – everyone needs a plan on how they will age and how they will protect their assets so that their worldly possessions pass according to their wishes at the time of their death. I think you should at least contact the godson and let him know what is happening, maybe he is a legal heir to Edith?

      Thank you for leaving that comment, it’s a cautionary tale to everyone to get their legal and financial matters in order.

  8. My grandma (raised me so more like a mom) recently passed. I had been living and caring for her for 10 years but had to go out of state for a couple years for a job. I was always planning on returning home when the job ended. The previous will gave me the home. January 2016, she told me she was going to change it to 50/50 bc my brother was helping her. Ok. Well, the will gave it all to him via a tod deed. The estate lawyer told me that she did contact him in January about 50/50 but called in February saying that I didn’t want it if I didn’t get it all. I never said that but I think my mom and brother did which means she made her choice based on fraud. Then after she died, he transferred money from the joint account where I’m the survivor. He returned the money taken 3 days after but the bank doesn’t care about the day of transfer bc it was 57 minutes before time on death certificate even though I have proof she was dead and that he gave a false story to the bank manager. I’m contemplating contesting the will as a means to mediate the 50/50. I know these cases are impossible in jury but better odds with mediation. I want to know if I can prosecute him for the bank transactions even though the bank doesn’t want to go further (all the accounts are in the same bank so they aren’t interested in fighting with another customer)? Just because he returned the money doesn’t mean he didn’t take it and the other money was taken after death even if not dead on paper. If I could prosecute him, it would help me with leverage in trying to settle bc I’m effectively homeless once my job ends. I tried to look it up but can’t get information.
    I tried calling an attorney but he said he would call back but never did. What kind of lawyer do I want to call?

    1. Hi Hannah, this is clearly a very hard situation – it involves family and promises that were not kept and the death of someone you loved. If there is an estate open at the local probate court, you could ask them whether the court clerk has a list of local attorneys who handle probate issues. You want a probate attorney to talk with you about what rights you might have in obtaining some of the estate assets that may have been promised to you when you moved in to take care of your grandmother.If there is no probate court estate matter open, then still get a list from the local probate court of attorneys who handle these matters and see about getting an appointment with one of them to discuss the matter. I am so sorry you find yourself in this situation with your family. Take care –

  9. My father in law died in May, 2009 and the executor (his brothers daughter) has done some very questionable things. For example, she made no attempt to notify his eldest granddaughter of her inheritance and when asked about it claimed it was “too late”. She provided none of his heirs with an accounting of the value of the estate or the contents even the contents of his safety deposit box. She will not provide any accounting of the “higher education fund” of $ 20 per child that was left to 4 minor children. The one that did use his for college, often had to drop classes because she refused to disburse tuition payments in a timely manner. Worse yet, we just found a notarized will that was written in 1994, that divided the estate equally between his 3 living children. The will the executor produced upon his death, had suddenly been changed in 2007 stating that he wanted the majority of his estate to go to a homeless shelter. I find all these things, when put together, to warrant further investigation, but we can not afford a lawyer. Any advice?

    1. Hi Patricia, In this case, your husband should put his demand for information in writing, so should the other heirs, and send letters to the Executor and copy them to the court where this matter is pending. After sending a letter, your husband and the other heirs should jointly request that the court hold a hearing on the executor’s behavior, lack of information, the allegation that she told one heir that it was “too late” for her to collect on her college funds. Lay it all out for the court with as much written documentation as you can find. The heirs can also file a copy of the newly found will for the court’s consideration. If that will was drafted by an attorney, the attorney and any witnesses to the will should be called to court to give testimony. The court clerk’s office may have good written information on the rights of heirs in an estate that they can give you. Best of luck to your husband and his family –

  10. I apologize for my typing errors……I am very tired. The fund for each grandchild is 20,000. And the failure to contact the eldest granddaughter stating it was “too late”, was less than 6 months after he passed away. Thank you

  11. i am the excutive of my brothers will. Days after his death i discovered a care giver that we hired. was using credit cards and put her name on one. she forged one check that i knew of. i reported it to law plus thousand of dollars of tools were stolen. The law has done nothing. I gave proof of my brother was with me during some use. He was unable to drive and she was every where buying and using his card. She bought a car and tag on his cards. i disputed all charges an am not paying them. But i dont want another family to suffer like we have.

    1. Thank you, Gail, for leaving this comment. Credit card fraud and check fraud are issues we see all too frequently with people who are very ill and/or dying. The best way to avoid this problem is to lock up/secure all credit cards, checkbooks, printed boxes of checks, Social Security card(s), tax returns, other paperwork that has identity information on it as a routine practice so a worker coming into the home cannot get ahold of credit cards or checks, or checking account information (that could be used to create on line account access). Computer(s) and passwords should also be password protected. Reporting this person to the state agency that investigates financial exploitation of vulnerable adults might get some action. Filing a police report if personal property was taken and you can prove they had access and did these other crimes also helps – with insurance. You may also want to check your brother’s credit report to see if the caregiver took out new cards in his name, or other forms of loans originated in his name – and lock down his credit. Some caregivers have redirected the monthly Social Security or pension checks into their own accounts as well – so check with them too. Planning ahead and practicing safe storage habits with personal paperwork, credit cards, computers and banking information goes a long way to preventing these types of thefts. In addition, if a caregiver has to use a credit card for groceries, prescriptions, or other personal shopping, get a card dedicated for that purpose and put a limit on it – and make sure you review the credit card statement routinely and get receipts from the caregiver for charges. I am so sorry your family experienced this theft – but thank you for raising the flag for other families to know that this is happening out there and they need to protect vulnerable family members.

  12. Hello, My father has a revocable living trust with a no contest clause in it. All property is to be sold and divided among his children. I am the trustee/executor of the will (written in MO). What recourse would I have if I have proof that his children take his property once he passes? Would I have them arrested? Contesting a will is to file a suit regarding what the will states, correct? Taking his belongings that are to be sold isn’t a form of contesting, is it? Thank you

    1. Hi Chris, you should hire a probate attorney to advise you in the state in which the will/trust is to be managed. In general, because I don’t practice law in MO, you should consult with a lawyer who knows the particular laws of your state that govern the trust. Hypothetically speaking – contesting one’s rights to inherit under a will (no contest clause) is not the same as the Executor/Trustee seeking to recover property taken from the Trust/Estate by people outside of the distribution process set forth in the trust/will. Again, get a lawyer, the estate has to pay that fee for legal counsel. Best of luck to you – and so sorry you have to deal with this after a death of a loved one.

  13. In Dec 2016, I rcvd a shocking phone call…The apt manager where my 100 year mother lived out-of-state called to advise me that my mother had died and been cremated by her caretaker! No one had ever notified me of anything , her only daughter, not even the hospital nor crematorium. As if I wasn’t in shock enough, the caretaker had also shown them papers where she inherited everything from a recent 2-year old Will, which I had never seen and my mother never mentioned. I always had copies of my mother’s Wills and POA, but certainly not the one she produced. My mother never mentioned a “new” Will . It was worse than that…When I arrived at my mother’s apt , everything of value had been stolen, everything including her car all within 5 days of my mother’s death. The caretaker also somehow had managed to remove me from all bank accounts and the Safety Deposit Box and had herself replaced on them. She forged checks (which I turned into the bank) and stole over $250k and also managed to inherit the house my mother owned and rented out. Yes, I immediately notified the police and obtained a lawyer, and everyone knows it’s suspiciously obvious what this woman did, but she was so professional at it, she road-blocked us all. I cannot even get bank records to investigate her, and the DA says it’s a Civil case because this woman managed to be on a Will. My lawyer and the CSI investigator believe this case will be very hard to win because there are no medical records showing my mother had dementia. The only witnesses I have are friends of mine who knew my mother, and can attest that she had bouts of tantrums and start yelling and screaming if she wasn’t getting her way, and was becoming more childish with age. The caretaker stole everything, all valuables, the Safety Deposit box items and cleared all bank accts, even though I was listed as POD on some of them. How can I possibly fight this horrible woman? She’s a professional at it, and when I investigated her, learned she was a part time nurse’s aide, owned a $339 house and 5 cars, and her son had a 20 year rapsheet for forgery and theft. Is there any advice you can give me and my lawyer on how to best prove this is a case of”Undue Influence” and “elder financial abuse”? Nobody seems confident we can win because my mother didn’t go to doctors, refused to actually, so no institution can vouch she had mental capacity problems. I have original Wills and POA where I had been the beneficiary for decades.

    1. Hello Mariann, I am so sorry to hear this account of the caregiver taking everything your mother owned. Your legal ability to challenge this in court depends on the state in which you reside. If your lawyer thinks it would be of any help to them, they should feel free to contact me at my office at 802 773-3300. But it is very hard to win undue influence cases, especially where there is no medical documentation/prescriptions for dementia/Alzheimer’s. The other issue is the lawyer who drafted the new will should be questioned if you challenge the will – why would your mother all of a sudden disinherit her child for a stranger. Again, more than willing to talk with your lawyer if they think it would be helpful.

    2. Hi Mariann, it sounds like you have a lawyer and law enforcement already engaged. You can always get a 2nd opinion from another lawyer, but given the facts you’d be bringing a challenge to a Will which can be hard to prove up. I suggest you and your lawyer set up a game plan, figure out your goals and a budget and see where going to court gets you. Sometimes these folks back down when light is shined on their behavior. So sorry you are going through this experience of the passing of your mother but the loss of your inheritance.

  14. Hi Paula,
    My Mom passed away 15 months ago and my Dad 4 years prior. As per my Dad wishes his bank accounts, IRA, savings were spilt 50% my Mom then 50% between his 3 children, my 2 brothers and myself. When my Mom past at the end of 2016 we did the same with her bank accts and since both had only a few thousand dollars no problems at all. My Mom lived with me the last 2 1/2 year of her life and I was her full time care giver due to rapid onset dementia. After my Dad passed it was agreed that my brother and I add our names to the title of the home which in Southern CA was paid in full years ago. Unfortunately I was going through a divorce after 33 years of marriage and did not want to add my name at the time so my husband couldn’t go after it and another brother has been estranged from the family and we couldn’t locate. My parents always expressed the house should be spilt equally between the 3 of us I respect though one brother hadn’t been in their lives for years, it’s their wish that again I respect. Finally after all that here’s the question. Since there was nothing in writing about the house and spilting it by 3, the one who had his name in it stated he isn’t doing anything with house until he dies. No one lives in it full time though 6 months prior to my my Moms death he doubled the size of the garage since he has worked out if it for years. Is there any legal recourse to had my other brother and myself in the deed or is he now entitled to %100 of it since he’s the only one now listed on the house deed. Thank you and I hope that made some kind of sense?

    1. Hi Michelle, in most states the deed controls how real property, like a house, is conveyed upon death. I suggest you contact a probate/estate lawyer who is willing to give you a free consult (usually 30 min) on your issue to explore whether or not there is any way to challenge this. Your caregiving for your Mom for the last 2.5 yrs of her life and whether or not you were paid for that caregiving is a critical fact, as is any verbal promise she made to you that you would also inherit part of the house. I’m sorry you’re going through this experience with your brother, please be sure to get the emotional support you need around grieving the loss of your Mom and dealing with your brother. Again, a lawyer in the practice area of probate/estate law in the state where your Mom died could give you advice on this matter.

  15. Hi my mom died last September and her husband a year prior to that she told us kids he left well of she told us the will is split equally between us kids, she choose to use her sister as an executor an also gave her power of attorney out of fear of her. The day my moms husband died she flew up to my moms house with her son an made her get rid of everything as my mom called me crying that she was not allowed to even keep her cassette tapes. My Aunt had her come back to live with her an charged her $500 to live a room that had no heat in the state of Ct mind you my mother died of Pneumonia. During this time my Aunt demanded to be her power of attorney an executor or her will. My Aunt also made it that I would not recieve my inheritance the same way my brothers did because she said I was on SSI an they would take it, I have not seen or spoke to my Aunt in over 30 years because this is not the first inheritance she has stolen. An I am on SSDI retirement from a disability from working an would not have lost any inheritance. Now on December 3 my Aunt had me come to her house to dispense my inheritance she put it as a gift from her of $30,000. She had a brand new $40,000 truck in her drive way an a banks statement on her kitchen table with my check that had my $30,000 withdraw of over $259,000.00 my brother just contacted me 2 days ago about there inheritance of $45,000.00 an that our Aunt is not providing any of us a copy of the will. We as her heirs and not disputing each other but the executor stealing from the estate as at this point the one proven thefts is the $15,000 that I did not get we 3 kids inheritance was to be equal. An now my brothers question is if she stole from me what did she steal from them. She knows I am disabled live in the state of Vermont not Ct were my mom died an do not have the financial means to legally go after her. I do not know what to do or were to turn any advice would be great.

    1. Hi Ruth, I am so sorry to hear of what your family has been through. I’m sorry that no one reported your aunt to Adult Protective Services in CT. The best thing you can do is all of you kids need to find out what probate court your Mom’s will was admitted in and then ask the Judge to review what your Aunt has been doing. As the beneficiaries under the will, you have the right to raise your issues with the judge and get answers from your Aunt. You don’t need a lawyer to do this, but it might help. Sometimes lawyers will take cases for free, and you could ask the probate court clerks if there is a list of lawyer who take cases like this for free – to get answers – or for lower costs. But at least call the court and talk with the clerk about the fact you don’t have the will and you are worried your Aunt is not giving everyone an equal share. I do hope you will be able to get your answers from the court.

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