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Have you been the victim of inheritance theft?

Many people are the victims of inheritance theft without ever realizing it. It can take many forms. Often, it's not as overt as, for example, a trustee stealing money from a trust that was intended for a beneficiary or a family member pilfering an antique vase that was bequeathed to another relative.

Sometimes, executors take more than the designated fee listed in the estate plan for their services or the percentage allowed under New Jersey law. They may rationalize their actions by saying that the job required a lot more time and effort than they anticipated. However, executors can't just take whatever they think they deserve.

Family members have been known to create phony amendments to estate planning documents or destroy documents completely if they aren't happy with the contents of them. That's why it's always best when people have a detailed estate plan drafted by an attorney who keeps a copy of everything.

Sometimes, a family member who was the recipient of a loan from a deceased loved one will claim that the money was a gift and they're not required to repay it. That's why it's important to document all loans of any significant amount -- even those to family members -- to help ensure that they are repaid.

Too many families learn only after a loved one has died that they've been subjected to undue influence by a caretaker or someone else in their lives to leave them more assets than the decedent intended. Whether by pressuring or threatening an older person, taking advantage of their mental or physical incapacity or simply using their powers of persuasion, they can often get the person to change their estate planning documents to benefit them and leave their loved ones less than they would have otherwise received.

If you suspect that you're the victim of inheritance theft, you should talk with your loved one's estate planning attorney. If they didn't have one (and even if they did), it's also wise to talk to an attorney of your own to determine what possible means of recourse you have.

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