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The holidays are a time of giving and the joy of connecting with family and friends.

Unfortunately, the holidays can also be a time of sadness and loss. It is in this time from Christmas and Hanukkah through the New Year when mortality in the USA spikes.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that “42,325 more people died of natural causes — which make up about 93 percent of all deaths — during the two-week Christmas/New Year holiday period than would normally be expected, given the typical winter increase in deaths.”

While there are many theories about the phenomenon, there is no escaping the fact that more people die during this festive time than in other months.


With nearly every death there is an estate accounting or “probate” started by the courts. Since there are more estates being opened after the “holiday surge”, there is a corresponding increase in the potential for theft and estate fraud.

Fraud is a crime of opportunity. The loss of a loved one is an event of great disruption, and this emotional time provides the perfect opportunity for thieves and fraudsters to distract you and target the assets of your family.

The bad news is that In a nation of 330 million people, about 230,000 die every month. If there is fraud or theft in just 1% of the probates that are opened, it means that every month there are more than 2000 estates opened that have some form of fraud. More than 100 every day of the work-week.

The good news is that you can defend your family’s assets!


Fraud is also crime of deception. The victim of a pick-pocket often doesn’t know that their watch or wallet is missing until hours after they’ve been targeted. By then, it’s too late.

In estate fraud, if you don’t know what assets existed in the past, you may not notice that those assets have “gone missing” until the estate is closed. By then, it’s too late.

So, one of the keys of fighting estate fraud is to pay attention and know what assets the family had in the past. If you have an inventory of assets from the past, you can more easily see what’s missing.


The fraud-fighting team at here offers the gift of our experience to help you defend yourself from fraud and theft.

Family photos a tool in fighting estate theft and fraud

It is fast, easy to do, and doesn’t cost a dime: When you get together with your family in the coming weeks, bring your camera-phone. Ask your host if they mind if you take pictures of the family photos—so that you and your family can have copies.

Once you have their permission, take few minutes and photograph the pictures in scrap-books, wedding and reunion albums.


Initially, that photo is family memory. Your legacy.

But in the future, that picture becomes “documentary evidence” in an estate accounting. When an estate is opened, that old picture of grandpa’s band allows you to be sure that the saxophone he is holding in the photo is included in the estate accounting and hasn’t suddenly “gone missing” to the local pawn shop.

That photo is your first line of defense against theft and estate fraud. The three minutes spent documenting your family’s history may have saved you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in losses.

This simple idea is just one of many things you can do to protect and defend your family’s assets.


A second idea is similar to the “pictures of family pictures” effort.

As you gather these photographic memories, consider building a family timeline on paper.

Nearly every life event has a financial component and those old photos can help built a financial timeline that corresponds to your family history. Detail the dates and locations of events: When did they arrive in the USA? When did they marry? What about their first house; birth of a child, change in job, divorce, promotion, new house, illness, travel?

Working with other family members can add layers of knowledge to your timeline. Did they travel? Did they join a golf or hunting club? Did they start a business? Did they have a time share? Did they have season tickets to sporting events? Did they collect coins or cars or art?

Building a timeline of your family’s history is way to trace your family’s journey, and a first step in accounting for your family’s assets.


Our series “The Anatomy of Fraud” is the story of a widow who refused to let the children of her deceased husband see their family’s records. The widow, who was the executor of the estate, gave the man’s sons a list of accounts, but the list was incomplete.

It took nearly three years in court before the man’s children were able to audit the family’s assets.

When the true accounts were finally delivered, the children discovered over a million dollars in assets that were missing from the estate accountings: Stocks, trusts, loans and other assets that were hidden from the estate accountings and from the man’s children.

You can see details of this story here:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So make that timeline, and check it (more than) twice. There is no need to be intrusive. The intimate details of passwords or account balances are not necessary. Just knowing what assets exist is a great first-line of defense against estate fraud.

If you don’t know that your family owned an asset—you won’t know it’s missing!

Our team of fraud fighters hopes that your family enjoys peace, joy and prosperity today, and the years ahead.

Have a question? Contact our volunteers at:

Follow us on Twitter: @stopfraud4













About Edmund Burke 101 Articles
Volunteers working to help people spot, stop and recover from fraud and corruption in probate, trusts, estates & guardianships.