Senior Swindlers

Legacy Hunters Prey on Widows With Money to Burn

inheritance fraud story from HB10Sept georg supanz
A villa on Sylt, one of the most expensive real estate locations in Germany. Inheriting something like this would make you an instant millionaire - many times over.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Gaps in inheritance laws have enabled so-called legacy hunters to take advantage of wealthy older Germans. In one case, a former bank manager managed to become the sole heir of a wealthy widow. Now the original heirs are fighting for what they insist is their rightful inheritance.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • In Germany an estimated €175 billion ($226 billion) in assets will be passed on to the next generation each year until 2020.
    • Some one in 10 inheritances are contested, usually by family members. But the wealth at stake has led to a new profession: legacy hunters
    • They typically follow the same approach, targeting, befriending and ultimately inheriting the estates of their victims.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

He was given the city’s badge of honor as a farewell gift. The mayor praised the savings bank director for his civic and community engagement, as a strong supporter of the arts and sciences and other local groups.

But on that day no one in the room knew about the greatest achievement of outgoing savings bank director Georg Dunkel*. He was about to become a multi-millionaire.

For many years, Mr. Dunkel and his savings bank had managed the account of Annegret König* and her husband, factory owner Ewald König*. Mr. Dunkel knew how much money was at stake. When Ewald König died, the wealthy widow – 21 years older than Mr. Dunkel – developed a close friendship with her bank manager and ended up adopting him in 2001, when he was 51.

The Empirica research institute estimates that in Germany some €175 billion ($226 billion) in assets will be passed on to the next generation each year until 2020. Disputes arise in one in 10 cases, usually among relatives. But the giant sums in question are increasingly attracting a different species: legacy hunters.

The culprits typically come from a handful of professions: in-home caregivers, doctors, lawyers and bank advisors. They use the information gained in their everyday work to select their victims. They establish close relationships with them with the ultimate goal of getting their targets, usually older people living alone, to name them as sole heirs.

Annegret König spent decades helping her husband build his life’s work, a small factory in Baden-Württemberg, that made measuring instruments, which sold for more €100,000 and periodically employed more than 100 people. A photo of Ewald König still hangs in the boardroom today.

Older employees still remember something Mr. Ewald said near the end of his life: “Kids, my wife and I are only doing all of this for you now.”

Mr. König died in 1994. He had already sold the factory for about 30 million deutschmarks (€15 million), because the childless couple had no heirs. His widow, Ms. König, continued to send money, ranging from several hundred to several thousand deutschmarks in some cases, to employees. They were pleased, but had no further expectations.

What they didn’t know is that the Königs planned to bequeath their personal assets to the employees. The “kids” were to receive millions.

Annegret König’s will specifically states how much each person is to receive with an unmistakable directive: “All provisions shall also apply to any legal successors of this company. Anyone not named in the will shall not become an heir.”

 

Want to keep reading?

Subscribe now or log in to read our coverage of Europe’s leading economy.