When the Heir is Not A Family Member

9.8.16A cautionary tale ends with a will being declared invalid, firings at the local police station and a lesson in elder abuse.

A wealthy 92 year old woman suffering from dementia left a $2 million estate to a local police sergeant but after three years of legal wrangling, her will was found to be invalid and the police officer and his supervisor were both fired from their positions. In New Hampshire Magazine’s September 2016 issue the article “Navigating Non-Relative Inheritance,” explains how vigilant professionals must be, especially in cases where children or other family members are being disinherited.

Just about all of the inheritances in a typical estate go to family members or to the deceased’s favorite charities. But when an unrelated individual is the beneficiary of a valuable asset or a large sum of money, it can raise questions and perhaps suspicions from those who felt they had a right to the inheritance. The issue may become how to balance the wishes of the testator—by distributing his or her assets as he or she sees fit—with the right of the bequeathed or the beneficiary of the will to accept it without creating a conflict of interest or violating the essential trust.

Receiving a non-relative inheritance has its risks. If you think you’re going to be named as a beneficiary of a will by someone other than a close relative, you should take steps to protect yourself.

While this may be somewhat rare, the suspicion can be significant, especially if a relative was cut out of the inheritance. You should remove and protect yourself from any dealings that could be interpreted as self-serving. That includes depending upon experts to determine capacity because the court will review this evidence to determine if the will is valid. An experienced estate planning attorney can help to advise your actions.

Fewer than 1% of all inheritances are subject to the federal estate tax, but you should review your estate planning with an experienced estate planning attorney in Houston.

A person who is not a relative needs to be respectful of an elderly person, especially if the person’s judgment has been affected by dementia. There is a moral imperative not to take advantage of an elderly person who may have lost the capacity for decision making. The elderly deserve to be treated with dignity and to leave their assets to rightful heirs without undue influence of a greedy opportunist.

These types of situations are not unusual, and the increase in elder financial abuse is a national problem. In a perfect world, caregivers and other community members would be the first to alert authorities to elder abuse instead of being the perpetrators.

For additional information on asset protection and probate or inheritance, please visit our website.

Reference: New Hampshire Magazine (September 2016) “Navigating Non-Relative Inheritance”

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