Boomers at risk of estate looters

Boomers to Become “Rich” Targets for Estate Looters
Lou Ann Anderson
December 12, 2008
www.EstateofDenial.com
“Gone to Texas” was a phrase used by Americans immigrating to Texas in the 19th century and is applicable again today as the Baby Boomers (Americans born 1946-1964) begin to retire and relocate, as in times past, to Texas.  Georgetown, Texas, was just named a top retirement town by Where to Retire magazine and a recent report by the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement lists Texas as the #2 state for retiree relocation surpassing Arizona and continuing to close the gap with Florida.

Whether in Texas or elsewhere, being a retirement “hot spot” energizes everyone from government officials and Chambers of Commerce to realtors and other business interests.  The concentration of a retirement-age population, however, can bring another element into a community – predators seeking to operate within probate venues so as to divert estate assets from intended beneficiaries or heirs.  In more simple terms, modern day looters and poachers intent on using the American legal system to steal property from the dead or disabled/incapacitated.

A new Horace Cooper column entitled A New Inheritance Tax for Baby Boomers discusses the upcoming transfer of wealth from Baby Boomers to their heirs and warns that “inheritance and estate planning scams are reportedly on the rise and perhaps even more pernicious is the rise in inheritance related litigation as the ever larger stockpiles of cash and real estate act as a magnet for trouble-makers.”  Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) acts that base lawsuits on probate instruments such as trusts, wills and guardianships are insightfully characterized as a litigation tax on inheritance.

That lifelong productivity and an accumulation of assets could cause a person to become a target is the reality of today’s world.  The upcoming years will see a transfer of wealth prompting new IRA efforts.   Legal speculation is fueling some of these cases as legitimate heirs are induced to “settle” opposed to expending resources to defend frivolous claims.  People think proper estate planning will protect them or that they don’t have enough assets to be a target, but there is no inoculation from the threat of IRA.  Entrusting the execution of your wishes to an individual who is respectful of your wishes is key, but thwarting of this effort occurs as IRA practitioners are often shameless masters of deception.

Law enforcement and the courts provide minimal safeguard or justice.  Local authorities often refrain from criminal prosecutions and instead defer IRA adjudications to civil courts.  Court battles are the traditional “remedy” for such actions.  But win or lose, massive financial expense as well as a stringent emotional toll can yield the only true “winners” in these cases to be the participating lawyers.  Many people cannot afford to take action as our courts are a pay-to-play venue.  Others recognize that even with a meritorious case, many IRA actions involve a lawyer as a primary or secondary perpetrator and judges (usually former lawyers) are not known for taking substantive action against “their own kind.”  With increased understanding, the need for criminal prosecutions will hopefully become self evident and communities will take action to ultimately protect their residents – both the living and the dead.  The prospect of a few years behind bars might one day make poaching Uncle Paul’s nest egg less appealing, but we are not there yet.

In his column, Horace Cooper encourages people to review their estate plans.  IRA cases happen quietly and those involved in estate looting actions want to keep it that way.   Two other areas of vigilance, however, also exist.   First, take a look at your own community.  Your town is likely home to “trouble-makers” as described by Cooper – those who use the legal system to subject legitimate heirs to this litigation tax on inheritance.  Work to know who these people are and avoid them.  Hopefully others will do the same and your area will cease to be viewed as potentially target rich.  Also, make this an election issue with local officials, especially your judges.  When these cases come before a judge, does the judge support individuals’ property rights or their legal industry peers’ property poaching actions?

Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) actions occur through abuse of probate venues and/or probate documents such as wills, trusts or guardianships.  When taken to court, these actions truly become a de facto inheritance litigation tax.  They happen daily and if many in the legal industry continue prevailing in their quest to keep this an undocumentable, “overstated” non-issue, the lifelong asset accumulation of an entire generation is at risk.  Areas with heavy retirement populations must be especially vigilant.  The upcoming transfer of wealth will occur, but without prompt legal system reform, the property recipients may be far different from what many Baby Boomers anticipate.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness (www.EstateofDenial.com) regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.  She may be contacted at info@estateofdenial.com.

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