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How to Prevent Your Estate From Being Looted

Looting an elderly person’s estate is not as isolated as you may think.

There have been many newspaper articles about estate looting.  For example, back in 2009, Anthony D. Marshall, the 85-year-old son of Brooke Astor, the wealthy New York socialite who died in 2007, was sentenced to prison for raiding money from his mother’s estate that was earmarked for charity. He took advantage of his mother after she contracted Alzheimer’s disease and wrongly induced her to change her will so he could help himself to some of her $190 million estate.

There are many other examples today of heirs prowling their loved one’s estates.

The size of the estate doesn’t matter. People will plunder an estate for a few thousand dollars if they think they can get away with it.  Some common examples of wrongdoing are heirs getting an elderly person who might be suffering from a mental or physical condition to change a will or else deceive them into gaining access to a financial account and then draining it.

Heirs and others have also had the elderly sign new deeds or they simply forged the signature themselves. The situation is even worse with an elderly person who is alone. Often times a caregiver or newer ‘friend’ winds up with the estate and distant relatives get nothing.  This type of activity mainly stays out of the media or gets reported.

What are the warning signs?  What should you look for?  What steps can you take if you suspect an estate is potentially being looted?

The main thing to keep in mind is to pay attention to what is going on in a person’s life and their finances. If you are the heir to the estate of your grandparents or parents and if something seems very unusual or wrong, take some action. That was what happened in the Astor case. Astor’s grandson noted that the elderly Mrs. Astor’s living conditions were terrible and filed a will contest. That is how the estate looting came to light in the first place. Otherwise, Astor’s son might have gotten away with his larceny.

Another thing you can do is talk to your parents or grandparents about their estate and their estate planning documents to determine exactly what their wishes are. You can do it in a non-aggressive way. Explain that you want to make sure that their requests are carried out.

Also, talk to your siblings and other potential heirs and or beneficiaries about their views of your parents’ or grandparents’ estate. If there is a disconnect between what they say and what your parents or grandparents have told you, your red flag should definitely go up.

Further, ask your parents or grandparents if you can read their estate planning documents. Tell them you are trying to help and want to make sure everything is as it should be.

Another idea is to help your parents and grandparents record a video explaining what their estate plans are. Nowadays thanks to technology, this is very easy with a smartphone. This works wonderfully as long as your loved ones are lucid and not mentally debilitated. The video is good evidence of what their wishes truly are.

Also, be wary if you have one elderly parent or grandparent who lives alone and is suddenly befriended by ‘new’ acquaintances or ‘workers’ such as painters, contractors, etc. In addition to taking advantage of older people by charging them exorbitant fees for their work, many target seniors as candidates for estate looting.