Could an awful relative steal your home? It’s more common than you think.
Here is an awful story I heard recently.
Man moves into a house with an elderly aunt. Aunt gets sick. Man starts drawing funds from aunt’s bank account to do repairs on house, perhaps also taking money directly out of account for his own use. Aunt gets sicker. Manfully establishes himself in the house, moves in girlfriend, by now has access to all aunt’s streams of income. Aunt dies. Daughter shows up, claiming the house is hers. Man claims the house is his, refuses to leave. Lawsuit ensues.
Turns out such horrible situations are actually quite common.
“People have been stealing from vulnerable elders and the dead for probably as long as humans have walked upright and carried clubs,” reads a post with the blog, On The Way To Dying. The blog cites a 2015 report on Elder Financial Abuse, which estimates that elderly are annually defrauded of $19 billion, money taken by criminals, friends, family members, and paid helpers.
Pretty astonishing. The post also points out that theft from vulnerable elders is certainly not a victimless crime: “When people steal from a dead or dying person, they are stealing from a widow or widower, from the deceased’s children and relations, and from the community. For example, if there are no funds to bury a body, then the local taxpayers pick up the tab for cremation and burial unless the family or friends step up to bear the costs.”
A post on a site called Mr. Money Mustache explains a similar situation. Parents die, and five siblings inherit the estate. The house itself is to be divided into equal portions. One older brother had lived in the home before the parents died and continues to live there. Originally, the other children are fine with this, that brother is in a bad financial situation, and the other siblings are eager to help him get out of debt. But the problem is, that brother does not want to move, ever. He firmly establishes himself in the house, and he moves in his girlfriend and her son, although he also continues to pay taxes and insurance on the house and makes repairs.
“Here is the issue we all tiptoe around because we don’t want to upset whatever family harmony remains since my parents’ death,” says the writer of the post, who is the youngest sibling in the family. “Five of us inherited the house. One of us lives in it and benefits from it. He has no intention of leaving, though I know he doesn’t have the money to buy it and probably couldn’t even get a loan because he is so financially strapped. Nobody wants to be the bad guy and state the obvious: either the house should be sold or the brother living in it should buy out the rest of us.”
A blog post on Forbes.com lists the seven warning signs a family member may be “ripping off your aging parents”: When one family member becomes very secretive about finances, when a family member lives with the parents and depends on them for financial support, when a family member isolates the aging parents from others or insists that no one else spend time with them, when there’s a sudden change in estate planning documents, and when a family member with a substance abuse problem has undue influence over an aging parent—They are “easy pickings,” the blog states.
The last in Forbes’ list: “Kidnapping and moving the elder to an adult child’s home without notice to anyone or discussion with anyone else.” The child then moves in and takes the vacated home for themselves.
Perhaps in today’s economy, with property and home prices in many cities going up, there is more of a premium on the value of a home. And people have thus developed more and more cunning stratagem to swindle homes away from other people, and often death is used as a tool in the caper.
Three years ago, a Springfield, Ohio family left town to visit a dying relative. They returned home to find that a stranger had moved into their home and changed the locks. This new owner had emptied the house of all of its’ prior contents and produced court documents to show that he was the owner. Oddly, he apparently had the law on his side. “The papers he provided are known legally as a ‘quiet title’,” reads an article in the Daily News, “involved in situations where the property has been abandoned.” Not only that, the man who moved in has made something of a business out of the practice. An investigation by a local news station found he had done this at least a dozen times in the past.
But then again, it is likely that this ploy is as old as humankind. Here is another story.
Neanderthal man moves into a cave with an elderly Neanderthal aunt. Neanderthal aunt gets sick. Neanderthal man starts selling Neanderthal aunt’s bone jewelry to fix up cave. Neanderthal aunt gets sicker. Neanderthal man fully establishes himself in cave, moves in Neanderthal girlfriend, gives her stolen bone jewelry, and by now has access to all Neanderthal aunt’s hidden stashes of wooly mammoth tusks. And, the rest is history..