Despite some indications of increasing public awareness, officials from one Minnesota county say that the number of cases they see involving financial exploitation of vulnerable adults continues to rise. The observation of Olmsted county social services workers seems to gibe with the results of a national study published last year that reported nearly $3 billion in losses during 2010 as a result of the financial exploitation of people over age 60. That figure factored in losses to organized efforts, such as fraudulent home improvement and trust or insurance scams, but vulnerable adults also frequently fall prey to misuse of funds by those entrusted to provide for their care and well being.
Nobody likes to see a criminal profit from illicit activity, even when it comes to probate proceedings. Twin Cities readers may be familiar with so-called "slayer statutes" that act to bar convicted murderers from benefiting from the estates of their victims. In one high profile case, the invocation of a slayer statute has led to a no holds barred will contest that has some potential beneficiaries contemplating an effort to paint the most likely heir as a conspirator to a murder plot.
Estate planning professionals do their best to try to convince people of the importance of maintaining at least the basic necessities for efficient probate administration but, as Twin Cities readers may know, the majority of Americans have not even go so far as to make out a simple will. As much as these statistics may rankle professionals, the real shock comes when we learn of wealthy individuals who have not taken basic steps toward proper estate planning. According to recent reports, the failure of actress and singer-songwriter Jenni Rivera to execute a formal will may place her affairs among the latest of celebrity estates to become embroiled in probate litigation.
Twin Cities readers who followed a previous story involving the heirs to the Benihana restaurant chain may be interested to learn that a recent court ruling has settled outstanding questions relating to two documents that may determine the future disposition of a substantial portion of the founder's estate.
As Twin Cities readers may know, the executor of a probate estate typically has broad latitude to manage estate assets in furtherance of the testator's wishes. Sometimes, however, those in charge of estate administration forget that an executor owes a fiduciary duty to all the beneficiaries of the estate. As one recent court ruling illustrates, the failure to live up to fiduciary responsibilities need not be motivated by greed or personal gain to amount to unlawful self-dealing and bad faith.