The number of crimes related to inheritance and probate in California seems to be increasing as third parties seek to take advantage of grieving families. Understanding that the average person has little direct experience with estate distribution, criminals are finding new ways to manipulate families into paying unnecessary fees or distributing assets unnecessarily. Each time a scam is uncovered, a new one often takes its place. Being aware of the latest inheritance and probate scams to watch out for allows you to better protect the people who are closest to you.

False Inheritance

Emails sent from unknown individuals claiming that the recipient has inherited money from a stranger are common and recognized as fraudulent. Unfortunately, like all types of fraud, inheritance scams have evolved over the years. Now some individuals have started searching public records and newspapers to find the families of the recently deceased. Once they have identified a target, a letter regarding an inheritance on an official looking document is sent by mail. At that point, the victims are encouraged to provide personal information (social security number, etc.) or asked to send funds to pay fees for processing or other services.

Fraudulent Real Estate Listings

Free websites like Craigslist have become the first place that many people looking for a new home visit. Over the years, various scams were exposed that focused on getting unsuspecting individuals to spend money on property that the person creating the listing did not actually own.  Now individuals target property owned by a person who has recently passed away, using local obituaries to pick a target. After identifying a property, the person will place an advertisement offering the home for rent using the recent death of the owner to explain their absence and name not being on the property deed. When a prospective renter begins to grow suspicious and starts looking for answers, the actual heirs of the deceased may find themselves confronted by a stranger over a transaction they know nothing about.

Probate Avoidance Living Trust Scams

There are some individuals who focus on targeting the elderly by encouraging them to purchase products that they claim will help their heirs avoid probate. Companies using names that sound similar to larger corporations (AARP), but without any actual affiliation with those companies, will contact senior citizens by mail or by telephone. The company will offer a living trust kit that they promise will avoid probate often exaggerating the actual costs associated with probate. In many cases, the kit is never provided and in other situations, the information provided does not follow the local law or does not suit the needs of the buyer.

Contact an Attorney

If you or someone close to you is contacted with any offer that sounds too good to be true, it is always a good idea to be cautious. Unscrupulous people and companies will use your grief as an opportunity to enrich themselves or their employers. After someone in your life has passed away, it is best to contact a trust and estate lawyer if you are contacted by anyone you do not know about the estate of a loved one. MMZ Law is able to help you review any information that you receive to protect you and your assets from fraud. Contact our conveniently located Claremont, California office today and schedule a consultation so that we can discuss your unique situation.

*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.