Introduction to the Probate Grift

Fraud Is At the Heart of the Probate Mafia Racket 

Fraud is an illegal activity often described as “stealing with a smile.” In the Saghafi case, the RICO complaint details how a guardianship that was intended to serve and protect an 80-year-old woman was in fact an organized enterprise that drained the family’s assets under the guise of guardianship care. This scenario is all too common and generally perpetrated in plain view.  

Cases involving guardianships, probates, family trusts and estates will offer fraud examiners both opportunity and challenges for the next several years. In the U.S. alone, more than 2.8 million people die each year, but more than half of them do not have a will. If just 1% of these estates have some element of fraud, there will be more than 500 new estate fraud cases every week!

In a time of mourning, many people don’t know what to do or where to turn for clarity. Often, local news outlets will carry stories about probates or estates that are in a fight. Keep an eye on these. As a fraud examiner, make a direct contact with the parties involved. This might provide a lifeline out of conflict because you can deliver independent accounting and asset tracing expertise to heirs for the probate process.

Over the next 20 to 25 years, it’s estimated that more than $48 trillion in assets will transfer from the “boomer” generation to their children and grandchildren. Nearly all of this wealth transfer will be supervised by local courts in some version of a trust, estate or probate accounting. These transfers can be simple and involve the proper retitling of assets to the heirs or new owners. But they can also involve complex tax and revenue stream (royalty) analysis, as would happen if a person had owned oil wells, publishing rights, timber or an active business. A fraud examiner with expert knowledge in these areas can be an asset in an estate that is sifting through these elements.

To address the probate grift at length some foundation would be helpful if not required. As the probate realms reach to the administration of decedent’s estates, certain mental health issues, guardianship and by extrapolation, even to trusts designed to avoid probate. However, as my experience is limited to one specialized routine we should probably begin with a few definitions regarding what we will be looking at and the terms we will use to describe its parts. To begin with, Grift of the Brunsting’s is a classic long con.

Definition of “long con

Noun Slang.

an elaborate confidence game that develops in several stages over an extended period of time wherein the con man or swindler gains the victim’s trust, often bypassing small profits with the goal of reaping a much larger payout in the final maneuver: The key to pulling off a long con is giving your marks the illusion of control while you and your team manipulate their choices.


The estate looting grift is often, but not always a “long con”. The long con refers to any of a variety of cons which require more planning, preparation, a longer window of interaction with the con's target and a longer period of time to execute. The long con may also require a large crew or a larger number of involved people to pull off the deception needed to relieve the mark of their cash or other valuables. Unlike a short con, the long con requires time to slowly draw the mark or marks into the con, but often results in very large pay-outs.

Because of the difficulty in organization and execution, long cons are considered to be for experts, not the province of new, young con men. This is where attorneys excel as they all members of a limited liability aristocracy and their victims are generally ignorant of the rules of the game being played upon them.

Traditionally, the term "long con" has referred to an elaborate con of one or more marks which ends with the payout, when the marks surrender their money or valuables. Long cons play on one or both basic human frailties: greed and desperation. The con is able to stay in place for long periods of time because of the seeming legitimacy and the Vacek gets a gradual payout for “services” rendered along the way.

What is a Grifter?

A Grifter” is a practitioner of confidence tricks. Synonyms would include descriptive terms such as scheme, scam, game, stratagem and sting. A confidence game is any attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their confidence, or trust when used in the classical sense.

The Confidence Man

The perpetrator of a confidence trick (or "con trick") is often referred to as a confidence man, con-man, con-artist, or "Grifter". The first known usage of the term "confidence man" in English was in 1849 by the New York City press, during the trial of William Thompson. Thompson chatted with strangers until he asked if they had the confidence to lend him their watches, whereupon he would walk off with the watch. He was captured when a victim recognized him on the street.

A confidence trick is also known by other descriptive terms such as a con, scam, grift, hustle, bunko (or bunco), swindle, sting, flimflam, gaffle or bamboozle. The intended victims are known as "marks", "suckers", or "gulls" (ie, gullible). When accomplices are employed, they are known as shills.

In Confessions of a Confidence Man, Edward H. Smith lists the "six definite steps or stages of growth in every finely balanced and well-conceived confidence game." "One follows the other with absolute precision. In some games one or more of these acts, to use a theatrical comparison, may be dropped out, but where that happens the game is not a model one. The reference to the stage is apt, for the fine con game has its introduction, development, climax, dénouement and close, just like any good play. And this is not the only analogy to the drama, for the scenes are often as carefully set; the background is always a vital factor. In the colorful and mirthful language of the bunko man, all these parts of the game have their special names.

I provide them here with their definitions because the facts of the story that brings me to produce this work, (grift of the Brunstings’) is a classic example of a long con and every event that occurred in transit, can be connected to, identified with and explained as part of a particular phase in the game:

Foundation Work

The foundation works are the preparations made before the scheme is put in motion. This would include the elaboration of the plan, the employment of assistants, and so forth.


The approach is the manner of getting in touch with the victim and is often the most elaborately and carefully prepared.

The first problem with the estate planning grift is finding a money cow. This is accomplished in a number of ways including attending church services, social meetings, advertising estate planning services, asset protection. And other means. Manipulating fear and offering salvation – selling “peace of mind”. People want to know what to do but as will be shown, it is a better thing to know what not to do.

The second problem confronting the estate planning Grifter is identifying vulnerable assets. Not every family generational asset transfer can be hijacked. Confidence tricks exploit characteristics of the human psyche such as dishonesty, honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility, naïveté, greed, jealousy or envy, amongst other human frailties. In order to intercept a family generational asset transfer one needs to create controversy. In order to create controversy the estate planning Grifter needs to identify a weak link in the family moral fabric to exploit. This is where the free seminar can be a handy tool: Bring the whole family to our FREE SEMINARS.

Approaching the Mark

The elder grantors are not the primary targets. They are the easy ones to bait because of the appearance of legitimacy of the services offered and the promise of protection from all those evils and fears that drive the mark to seek the Grifters estate planning services from the onset. The real marks are the intended heirs. Once the “Peace of Mind” package is sold the grift shifts to chumming amongst the heirs to see who can be corrupted. This doesn’t always work but it works often enough to make the game pay off.


    This is where the grifters rouse and sustain the interest of one or more of the victims, rousing his greed, showing him the chance of profit, and filling him with so much anticipation and cupidity that his judgment is warped and his caution thrown away.

The Hurrah

A hurrah is like the denouement in a play, and no con scheme is complete without it. It is a sudden crisis or unexpected development by which the mark is pushed over the last doubt or obstacle and forced to act. Once the hurrah is sprung, either the scammer has total control, or the con fails.

What is wonderful about the trust and estate game is that the Hurrah’s are built-in and guaranteed. Occasionally both Grantors will pass simultaneously in an accident but more often than not one will die or become infirm before the other. When this happens the grifters “services” will be needed again and that’s also where the grifters sometimes get a list of the booty that’s up for grabs.

The Pay-off or Convincer

The Pay-off or Convincer is an actual or apparent paying of money by the conspirators to convince the victim and settle doubts by a cash demonstration. In the old banco game, the initial small bets which the victim was allowed to win were the pay-off. In stock swindles, the fake dividends sent to stockholders to encourage larger investments are the pay-off;

In the case in point, “Grift of the Brunsting’s” it was Anita getting to change everything into her name as trustee, managing the money, cashing the stocks, writing checks to pay her own credit cards and keeping it to herself like it was her own bank account that we describe as the payoff or convincer. Curiously, none of the Defendant’s “accounting” records show the $100,000 Anita borrowed from the thrust in 1999 that was never paid back but it does explain the covert letter to the Special Master dated July 13, 2013 alleging all kinds of imaginary benefits received by Carl and Candace and explaining how “Nelva” wanted to even things up with $100,000 “gifts” to Carole and Amy. In the first 120 days of “Anita’s Reign” more money left “the trust” than in the previous 10 years combined. That’s quite a “convincer”.

The In-and-In

This is the point in a con game where the conspirator puts some of his money into the deal with that of the victim; first, to remove the last doubt that may tarry in the gull’s mind, and, second, to put the con man in control of the situation after the deal is completed, thus forestalling a squeal. Often, the whole game is built up around this feature, and just as often, it does not figure at all.

The Glass House Complex –

A variation in which one of the suckers is lead to believe they are part of the sting and when they are double crossed they can’t squeal because they would expose their own unclean hands  in doing so. This is the classic grifters “in and in” I call it the dirty hands.

When you take the confidence game phases, parts or steps and put events in a time line it is very easy to fill in the gaps as everything starts to make sense in a not so innocent way. The variety of confidence scams and the variety of the artifices that can be mixed, matched and tailored to any set of circumstances is overwhelming.

The Bait and Switch

A “bait and switch” takes place when an appealing offer is made, which one does not actually intend to honor. This often occurs in offers to sell a product or service, which one does not actually intend to sell. The initial advertised offer is called “the bait” and there are all kinds of different bait and switch schemes in the commercial contract context. There is much more that can be said on this topic but that is enough for our purposes here.