29 June 2020
Probate fraud – what can you do about it?
Fraud in the context of Wills and probate is viewed very dimly by civil and criminal courts alike, as it undermines the integrity of a system built on trust and perpetrators will be dealt with harshly. Probate fraud can occur before or after someone has passed away, either at the hands of a want-to-be beneficiary or those tasked with administering the estate. B P Collins’ Principal lawyer and criminal law specialist, Jonothan Moss, advises on what to do if you suspect someone of probate fraud.
There are various things to look out for if you suspect probate fraud:
- Were abrupt changes made to the will?
- Was the person anxious and confused at the time of making the will?
- Do you suspect the signature on the will not to be from the deceased?
- Do you suspect a will was made without the person’s knowledge?
- Did the deceased make any substantial gifts of money, property or valuable items shortly before they died?
- Was someone else’s name added to a bank account or the deeds of a property before death?
- Were there any inexplicable withdrawals from bank accounts?
- Have all assets been accounted for and properly distributed after death?
If you suspect probate fraud, what should you do next?
Seek legal advice from a lawyer who will advise on what can be done immediately to protect the assets concerned and investigate matters further. The lawyer will also advise on whether the police should be involved. If the police are willing to open an investigation, they will have the power to extensively search computers, phones and other relevant documentation to gather enough evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service to be satisfied that there is a "realistic prospect of conviction.” In addition, it is possible to obtain information and evidence alongside – and separate to – the police investigation. For example, it may be possible to obtain evidence about the circumstances surrounding the will from the solicitor involved in the preparation of the will and from the witnesses to the will.
What if there isn’t much money involved?
From a civil court perspective, the amount of money at stake will undoubtedly have a bearing on whether a probate dispute will end up in court. From a criminal law perspective, however, the amount of money involved is irrelevant to the question of whether a criminal offence has been committed. The amount of money at stake could influence the final sentence given to a convicted perpetrator but what is most important is ascertaining whether the accused has undermined the probate system and committed a criminal offence. If so, they will face a criminal conviction whatever the extent of their ill-gotten gain.
How can B P Collins help?
B P Collins has lawyers who specialise in contested probate cases from a civil perspective as well as specialists in criminal law. The team at B P Collins has experience of successfully taking probate fraud cases to trial in civil courts as well as working with the police to encourage and assist with criminal prosecutions. The police are under-resourced and may feel that they need to prioritise their efforts on other cases. B P Collins can help with your investigation into a will or a probate process and advise on whether there is enough evidence to pursue a civil claim and / or justification to open a criminal case. We can gather evidence on your behalf and ask the police to investigate and take the case forward, at the same time as your civil action, or instead of it.