Laws on Probate Fraud
Probate disputes are covered by state law. Title 43 Chapter 8 of the Alabama Code is the Probate Code. Section 43-8-5 addresses fraud connected with proceedings initiated under the chapter. It states that any person against whom fraud is committed may obtain appropriate relief against the perpetrator.
There haven’t been many major cases addressing the specific prosecution of probate fraud, since most of these cases occur at a lower court level. Damages in probate fraud cases are assessed in the same manner as damages in other civil disputes. There is not often a connection between the size of the estate and the damage amount granted Compensatory damages are calculated based on the amount taken from the estate, and any other amounts lost to the plaintiff as a result of the fraud.
Punitive damages – meant to punish the wrongdoer – might also be available. Section 6-11-20 of the Alabama Code states that when there is clear and convincing evidence that there has been fraud, malice, etc., punitive damages may be assessed. Fraud is defined as intentional misrepresentation, and malice is defined as intentional wrongdoing that harms a party or that the law will see as done with evil intent.Size of estate may matter for computation of potential punitive damages, as a court might believe that there is more evil intent when an estate is larger (perhaps defendant more motivated to take advantage of the estate).
Consequences for Professional Licensees
Many criminal and civil offenses may affect an individual’s ability to use/retain his professional license, whether or not the charges are directly related to his profession. A defendant may have to defend himself both in court and against the licensing board.
Potential consequences of an offense depend on the rules of the specific licensing board and the professional rules associated with the particular career. For instance, the rules for healthcare professionals provide a good example of typical licensing board rules that might apply. Alabama Code Section 34-24-360 outlines the licensing rules for medical professionals. It states that medical licenses may be suspended, revoked, or restricted for conviction of any crime or offense that reflects the inability of the practitioner to practice with regard to the health/safety of patients.
Special thanks to Katie Pickle, my chief law clerk, for her help in writing, researching, and editing this article.