As set out in the recent article in the Financial Times there has been a recent increase in identity thefts involving properties. In that article, Ms Beth Holden, a member of our team here at Anthony Gold, explains how fraudsters target empty or rented properties.

One of the case studies referred to in that article involved a probate property. It was only long after the executor was appointed that the fraud came to light.

What then are the responsibilities of an executor to safeguard the estate assets in these circumstances? Many people agree to become an executor, without understanding the full responsibilities involved. Furthermore, although executors’ powers are limited until the grant is in place, many do not understand that the responsibility starts on the death. As such they are often not in a great hurry to secure the property. This is fraudsters might target probate property.

An executor will have made enquiries as to the estate assets before the grant of probate, in preparing the IHT forms. Part of that process should be looking to secure the estate property. Executors should make enquiries as to who is occupying the property. If the property is empty regular visits should be arranged. If the property is rented, then enquiries should be made of the tenants.

In terms of protecting a property, many executors will have the property transferred into their own name as soon as possible. The first step, however, would be to send in the death certificate and request that the death is registered on the system. Executors would also be wise to sign up to the free alert service offered by the Land Registry. In any event, the address of the proprietor should be updated from that of the deceased.

If the above precautions are not in place and the property is transferred to a bona fide purchaser without notice of the fraud, it would be necessary to apply to have the register rectified. This is a complex and lengthy process, which necessitates legal representation.