FBI catches man who allegedly swindled nuns into paying "probate costs"

On Monday, the FBI captured a man who has been charged with 14 federal fraud counts connected to a scam in which he allegedly defrauded a number of individuals. Among the victims in the scam were 24 members of the Dominican Sisters of the Rosary of Fatima.

The man, who is currently awaiting trial, has apparently been accused of posing as a Catholic priest and convincing the victims, among them an elderly nun, that he was the beneficiary of a parishioner's $2.1 million estate, and that he was willing to gift the estate to the order, but that he would need money for taxes, costs, fees and charges in order to probate the will.

The scheme apparently lasted for some two years and involved a number of individuals who sent money on the elderly nun's behalf. In total, $439,153 was involved. If convicted, the man faces a sentenced as high as 260 years in prison, along with a $3.25 million fine, three years of supervised released and a special assessment of $1,300.

From a law enforcement perspective, this case reminds us of the limited resources available for fighting smaller cases of fraud such as this one. From an estate planning perspective, it brings up the issue of the expenses associated with probate.

How much does probate cost? This really is not an easy question to answer, as costs will vary from place to place. In general, probate will quite easily cost between three and seven percent of the total value of the estate, perhaps more.

Probate expenses will go toward a number of items, including appraisals, personal representative fees, court costs, a surety bond, legal and accounting fees, and so forth. Costs will also depend on whether there is litigation over the estate, such as a will contest. In some cases, these disputes can consume a large portion of the estate itself.

There are ways to reduce the amount of property going through probate, or even to base one's estate on trust techniques which are able to bypass probate and avoid the hassles and costs associated with it.

On the other hand, doing so isn't always necessary, since probate isn't always such a hassle or expense to go through. Much of this depends on the state in which one lives, and its particular process. Hence, it is import to speak with an attorney knowledgeable about the probate process.

Source: Forbes, "FBI Nabs Bogus Priest Who Ripped Off Elderly Nun In Fake Will Scam," Bill Singer, February 28, 2012.

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