Many people hope to leave their loved ones a good inheritance and assets through estate planning, but the sad truth is that your hard-earned money and assets could end up in the wrong hands if they are not handled properly.
"Fraud has always been a common feature in deceased estates," says Carin Meyer, Product Head of Wills and Deceased Banking at FNB Fiduciary, "but attempts to swindle families and loved ones have unfortunately become more widespread over the COVID-19 period." "This has been aggravated by the fact that fraudsters are aware of the administrative issues that have plagued the sector in recent years, and they take advantage of unwary beneficiaries and families. In some cases, perpetrators use fraudulent Letters of Executorship (LOE) or Letters of Authority (LOA) to acquire access to the deceased's assets. In other instances, fraudsters target vulnerable families to trick them into surrendering power of attorney over the estate," she says.
Meyer shares a few tips to help families protect their estates and inheritances against fraud:
- Keep your paperwork in a secure location - Documents such as your ID, marriage certificate, Will, estate plan, assets, financial plans, or inheritances should always be stored safely. Some people prefer to keep their documents in a file or envelope, while others prefer to save them digitally and access them with a password. It is critical to have an inventory and written instructions that will guide family members or beneficiaries when you're no longer alive.
- Choose a trusted executor for your Will and estate plan - An executor is a person who must be appointed to manage your estate after your death. Ensure that the executor you select has the skills and experience necessary to handle the potential complexity of dealing with the various requests specified in a Will and estate plan. Some people choose a family member as executor, but an independent executor may also be selected.
- Don’t overshare or disclose information - People can protect themselves by not divulging their personal or financial information, whether it’s with extended families, close friends, colleagues, business partners, or other acquaintances. We are all familiar with the saying "love them all, trust no one". If you have been appointed executor of an estate, do not give any documents, copies or originals, to anybody other than an authorised official in the Master's Office.
- Examine all communication sent to you - Fraudsters often pose as call centre agents from financial service institutions or insurance providers, bankers, or lawyers. They also send messages, emails, and links with instructions that pressurise people to do certain things stated in their communication. Trusted financial services or insurance providers, bankers, or lawyers always give their clients sufficient time to understand the information shared before making any decisions – big or small.
- When in doubt or suspicious, get professional help - If you have granted a third-party power of attorney and you suspect they are not being truthful, consult your estate planning advisor immediately to discuss your options. You may cancel the power of attorney, and you can also contact the Master's Office to cease any action on your estate until further notice.
"As an institution that is entrusted by clients to be the administrator and/or executor of their estates, we always remind beneficiaries and families to maintain maximum caution about who they involve in their estate affairs. In keeping with our commitment to helping our clients with integrated financial advice, we also want our clients to know that estate planning is a critical part of their lifelong aspirations. Any client who wishes to enquire about estate planning can contact us directly for assistance," concludes Meyer.