Choosing a person to manage your estate is one of the most difficult and crucial tasks associated with estate management. Unless your estate is properly administered, it is impossible to know whether or not your final wishes will be respected, and choosing the wrong administrator could lead to executor fraud. Tom Carvel, the founder of Carvel Ice Cream, credited for the creation of soft serve ice cream, left behind a clear will that gave instructions regarding the distribution of his multimillion-dollar estate.

Unfortunately, problems started a few years later when one of the six co-executors (Carvel’s niece) transferred over two million dollars to a private account without notifying any of the other executors. Accused of fraud, the niece was sued, initiating years of litigation that cost the estate over $30 million in various fees. Knowing how to spot executor fraud can help you recognize what is happening before the situation escalates.

Uncharacteristic Secrecy

The time immediately following the passing of a loved one is confusing and requires a great deal of attention from the estate’s executor. While they are expected to stay in contact with beneficiaries and creditors, it is not unusual for lapses in communication to occur. However, if the executor seems unwilling to provide information and appears secretive, that could be an early warning sign. An executor who is making decisions that defraud the estate and named heirs may attempt to restrict access to bank accounts, life insurance documents, and other information that could be used to determine how money is being distributed.

Suspicious Claims

Once an executor has decided to take advantage of his or her position for financial gain, he or she may begin finding ways to explain away things that could potentially draw attention to that criminal activity. An executor who has already cashed in life insurance policies or drained bank accounts may start saying that the deceased only had one or two bank accounts or life insurance policies. Other claims that do not seem to coincide with your loved one’s behavior such as a large amount of money being lost gambling, paying off debt, etc. should be questioned. These claims could be an attempt to conceal fraud by making it seem as though certain funds never existed.

Open Hostility

Administering an estate is difficult, time cotime-consumingften thankless. It is not unusual for family members and close friends to argue over issues related to the estate. Though arguments are normal, open hostility that is inexplicable is not. If the executor of the estate begins responding to basic inquiries with unnecessary hostility or anger it could be a sign that they are trying to avoid or discourage communication.

Seek Legal Advice

Confronting an executor directly regarding your suspicions is not always advisable. Instead of giving the person you believe is committing executor fraud advance warning, contact a probate lawyer instead. An attorney who has experience with estate and probate is more likely to notice discrepancies that indicate fraud. The team at MMZ Law understands how sensitive the relationship between an estate administrator and beneficiaries often is. We are prepared to help you research the situation and provide the legal advice you deserve. Contact us today at (909) 256-6702 to schedule a consultation at our conveniently located Claremont, California office.

*We service Elder Law through Medi-Cal Asset Protection Planning



341 W. 1st St. Suite 100
Claremont, CA 91711

MARIVEL M. ZIALCITA is the founder of MMZ LAW, A Professional Corporation, where she practices in the areas of Elder Law – Medi-Cal Planning Asset Protection, Trust & Estate, Special Needs, Conservatorship, Trust Administration, & Probate. Ms. Zialcita is a frequent speaker on trust and estate matters and holds memberships in the State Bar of California, Trust and Estate Section, The San Bernardino County Bar Association, Wealth Counsel and Elder Counsel. She currently assists in the pro bono legal services program at the James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She is based in Claremont but assists clients throughout Southern California.

This information is educational information only and not legal advice.