Every estate plan is different, both in terms of intent and form. Most, though, share the common goal of honoring a decedent’s legacy. This is typically done through the giving of gifts, whether through a will or a revocable living trust.
However, the integrity of an estate is not always guaranteed. In today’s world, identity theft is an already-common crime that is only expected to become more prevalent in the coming years. Executors must often be proactive in ensuring the security of an estate at every stage of its administration.
The Alatsas Law Firm was founded on simple principles: preserving our client’s assets, protecting their interests, and providing critical assistance. If you need help honoring a loved one’s legacy, our experienced team of attorneys could help you keep an estate safe through the probate process, whether from identity thieves or other unexpected challenges.
Identity Theft During Probate
Identity theft was once a complex crime. Before the advent of the internet, prospective identity thieves often went to great lengths to obtain victims’ personal information. Many would rummage through dumpsters, searching discarded documents for names, addresses, and birth dates, which could sometimes be used to open new credit cards or apply for fresh lines of credit.
Today, however, tech-savvy identity thieves can access sensitive information without ever leaving their computers. Common identity theft strategies include the following:
- Purchasing personally identifiable information off the dark web
- Reviewing social media profiles for clues that can be used to guess passwords and security questions
- Scouring obituaries and genealogy websites for the names of recently deceased persons
While some identity thieves may plan to use a decedent’s information indefinitely, most act fast, knowing that it is only a matter of time until an executor or heir realizes that their loved one’s identity has been stolen. However, by the time that identity theft has been detected, it is often too late to undo the damage.
Identity Theft Complications
Identity theft can create serious complications in probate, the formal process of dissolving a decedent’s estate and distributing their possessions to heirs and other beneficiaries. This is because New York probate typically necessitates that the deceased person’s debts be paid before inheritances are ever paid.
If an identity thief succeeds in siphoning off funds or opening new lines of credit, the probate court could presume that the decedent incurred lawful debts that must now be repaid in full. While executors can, of course, challenge unauthorized charges, doing so can cost time and money.
Protecting an Estate From Cybercrime
Almost everyone, living and dead alike, has had personal information released in a data breach.
However, while it may be near-impossible to prevent old passwords from being passed around the dark web, executors have options to reduce an estate’s odds of falling prey to cybercriminals. These include the following:
Contacting Credit Bureaus and Banks
If you are the decedent’s executor or personal representative, contact all three of the major credit reporting bureaus. Credit bureaus can receive, generate, and circulate “death notices,” which advise lenders that an individual has passed away and should not be extended credit.
Notifying the Internal Revenue Service
The executor can send the IRS a copy of the deceased person’s death certificate, both to file a final tax return and to ensure that any refund is routed to the estate rather than a third-party criminal.
Keeping Sensitive Documents Safe
As an executor, you are responsible for managing the estate’s finances and keeping an accurate inventory of estate assets and documents. While it may be unthinkable, friends and family members sometimes try to profit from the death of a close relative. If a family member asks too many questions or insists on knowing the decedent’s personally identifying information, exercise caution and consider contacting a Brooklyn asset protection attorney.