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Watch for signs your inheritance is being stolen

Inheritance theft is something that can happen right under your nose. You may have been told time and again that you're going to inherit something only to find out that when your parent, grandparent or other relative dies that whatever you were promised is gone or the bank accounts are nearly emptied.

Alternately, you may find that there's been a sudden change in the will -- a new one executed only a few months before your relative's death -- that leaves everything to someone else. Sometimes that "someone else" wasn't around much until lately -- but stepped in as soon as your relative's health or cognitive abilities began to fail.

Here are the best ways to prevent your relative from falling victim to someone's greed and to keep yourself from being the victim of inheritance theft:

1. Stay involved with the finances.

Particularly as a loved one ages, you may have to get comfortable asking questions you wouldn't have asked when that person was younger. He or she may be relieved to allow you to help with the bills or perfectly willing to discuss finances with you. However, your family member may be resistant. You need to persevere, however, to make certain that no one is taking advantage of them.

2. Visit often.

That's the best possible way to make certain that valuable items, like expensive jewelry, firearms, antiques and art aren't disappearing. A senior may suddenly start giving away gifts without much thought to who they've been promised to. Someone may simply walk off with them if the senior is suffering from any form of dementia.

3. Consider taking control.

While it's a difficult thing to do, if your elderly relative is becoming increasingly incapacitated -- physically or mentally -- you may need to get an attorney and ask the court to appoint you his or her guardian. That may be the best way to protect both your relative's safety and his or her bank accounts. It will also prevent a new will from being made once he or she has been declared incompetent.

Inheritance theft doesn't have to happen, but it requires getting involved and staying involved in order to make certain that your relative isn't being manipulated by someone's greed.

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