Your happy life is turned upside down when your favourite uncle’s will is altered at the 9th hour. Suddenly, the will you were shown just last year seems out of whack. You can hardly believe what you’re reading. Pages are gone and the signature is fuzzy. Your relative’s new companion has been left his entire estate. Has your too friendly for his own good uncle been taken to the cleaners?
Changed Will is a Red Flag
A dramatic change or conflicting instructions may signal something is seriously wrong with a personal will. When you make a legal will, copies are left with the estate trustee, family members or in a wills deposit at an Ontario courthouse. Coming forward with a new will that leaves out loved ones can be a red flag something’s up.
15 Signs a Will May be Fraudulent
- It was made without legal advice.
- The will was revoked or changed.
- Pages are missing or substituted for the original.
- It seems digitally altered or scanned.
- It’s on a do-it-yourself form.
- Signatures appear forged.
- It’s the only copy.
- The previous will has been destroyed.
- You don’t know the witnesses or there are none.
- Changes are “out of character” or the language is different.
- Changes are based on wrong information.
- One heir profits over others.
- Valuable assets are left to caregivers.
- Your family member was vulnerable to being tricked.
- The will got changed while they were in hospital or sick.
The Fraud Triangle
Frauds typically involve a triangle of:
Fraudsters zero in on hospitalized, widowed or lonely victims. A caregiver who is overly friendly or long-term care nurse who takes a sudden interest in your relative could be abusing their trust to get ahold of their estate. If you are not usually around, you may not see the telltale signs that someone is taking advantage of a vulnerable relative for personal gain.
Criminologist Donald R. Cressey calls “greed and need” driving motivations behind fraud. Pressure to pay gambling or credit card debts, feed a costly addiction or buy status symbols like a nicer house or fancy car can easily lead to financial abuse.
Dishonesty comes in many forms. The church-going good husband or honest business woman may believe their actions are okay. Rationalizing a criminal act gives the accused permission to commit it.
Remedies for a Fraudulent Will
Dishonest or deceptive behavior that results in financial or personal gain and harms a victim can be a crime, civil wrong or both. A criminal conviction can lead to fines, jail time, probation, penalties like community service or repayment of stolen goods. Civil cases are challenging to prove, but even if no money or property was lost, a warning or punitive damages may stave off future attempts.
5 Steps to Getting Justice in a Fraud
If you believe fraud has occurred:
- Get legal advice from a wills and estates lawyer. They can advise you on pursuing your complaint in court or making a police report.
- Collect evidence. Hire a private investigator or get others to help you locate the smoking gun. Can you prove it is more likely than not a fraud occurred?
- Find witnesses. Talk to relatives and friends about the culprit’s relationship to your relative. Ask if your relative talked about their final wishes or revoking or changing their will.
- See if you can resolve your concerns out of court. A civil fraud recovery lawyer or mediator could help you talk it out. The guilty party may be only too glad to avoid going to court.
- File a lawsuit. Civil court is expensive and you may not win. But it could be worth it if the estate is big or you want justice for the deceased.
Helpful Documents for Proving Fraud
Look for wire or bank transfers, bank statements, contracts, text or email messages, voice mails, letters or photos. Store receipts showing the fraudster is spending way beyond their means could be very useful.
Burden of Proof is On You
It’s up to you to prove your case. Be cautious about making a claim you can’t back up or moving too quickly. The fraudster could sue you or worse yet, destroy evidence, leave town or hide the money. Surprise is on your side if you don’t tip your hand before you are ready to act. For that reason alone, be careful about filing a police report. Police ask a lot of questions and could alert the fraudster that the jig is up.
Video Call to Make a Final Will and Testament
Don’t leave your estate to chance. Axess Law Ontario wills and estate lawyers video conference with you to finalize your last will and testament. Call toll free to 1-877-552-9377 or 647-479-0118 in Toronto or use our online booking form to make an appointment. Video calls and e-signing appointments can be arranged anywhere in Ontario, 7 days a week, day or evening. You can meet in person with a licensed wills lawyer at our Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Ottawa, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s wills and estate services.