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What is Inheritance Theft?


Sometimes, when we expect to get an inheritance and we don’t get one, or we don’t get the inheritance that we expected, we can challenge the will or other estate documents. Maybe it can be argued that the deceased was not competent, or that someone exerted influence on the deceased, that caused us to lose out on our expected inheritance.

But sometimes, the reason why we didn’t get what we thought we were getting from someone’s estate, is because of the actions of a third party. When someone does something intentionally, to deprive someone else of an expected inheritance, it can give rise to a lawsuit for inheritance theft.

Fraud and Coercion

Proving an inheritance theft case requires showing that someone used coercion, fraud, pressure, or some other means, and that because of that, the beneficiary was deprived of what would have been an inheritance. The behavior of the third party must be the cause of the loss of the inheritance.

The deceased isn’t around to testify by the time these kinds of lawsuits are filed, which can make them difficult to prove.

Undue Influence

Inheritance theft lawsuits sound a lot like will challenges based on undue influence, and they are related.

Whereas in an undue influence challenge, the challengers are saying that the deceased was unduly and forcefully coerced by a third party to alter a will or make a will, an inheritance theft is a direct lawsuit by the beneficiaries who were cheated out of the inheritance, against the party that was exerting the pressure on the deceased.

They are so closely related, that you are actually legally required to challenge the will in probate court under undue influence, before you can file the inheritance theft claim, which will be filed in civil, and not probate court.

What is Inheritance Theft?

Inheritance theft can come in many forms, and there is no exact list of the kinds of behaviors that will support an inheritance theft cause of action. Some examples may be:

  • The third party defames beneficiaries, causing the deceased to alter a will or trust, on the basis of the defamatory statements
  • The third party tells the (now) deceased, that relatives or beneficiaries cannot be found, or that they are dead, in order to convince the person to eliminate those beneficiaries from a will
  • A third party tells the (now) deceased, that for legal or tax reasons, it is a good idea to eliminate beneficiaries, or else, pressures them into believing that the intended beneficiaries are irresponsible, or that they don’t deserve the inheritance
  • Any kind of threat, whether physical or otherwise, that is used to coerce someone to write someone else out of a will.

In very serious cases, inheritance theft can result in criminal charges being brought against the perpetrator, such as when estate assets are being stolen from the estate, and thus, the intended beneficiaries.

Have you been cheated out of an inheritance, or want to challenge a will or an estate? Let us help. Call the West Palm Beach estate planning lawyers at The Law Offices of Larry E. Bray today.

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