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How do you deal with inheritance theft?

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You could recover the stolen inheritance by asking the alleged thief to return the property to the estate. If this fails, you may need to file a lawsuit. First, ask to have them return the estate assets. If they do not respond, then immediately seek counsel to understand inheritance theft laws to protect the remaining estate, as once a person steals property, they most likely will continue.

Dying Intestate (without a will or trust) and stealing occurs from the family

The passing of a loved one is always a time of great confusion, especially if they didn’t leave behind a will and documentation detailing their entire estate. Amidst the shock and activities of planning for the funeral, properties can get lost or stolen money, leaving the family in serious financial difficulties.

Theft of a Deceased’s properties before Inventory

Theft from an estate before Inventory is when someone steals property from an estate before Inventory is taken. It’s always the thief’s goal to fool everyone that the property does not belong to the estate. A detailed account of the deceased’s properties makes it easy to notice what’s missing. Once you determine what’s missing, it may be possible to get it back. Videoing the inside of the home, for example, is an intelligent choice! Now, if needed, you may have to go to probate court and best to find a reputable attorney.

A straightforward way to go about it is asking the suspect to turn over the asset to the estate for inclusion in the Inventory. Of course, there’s always a chance this may not work. But if you have evidence, they will likely return the assets for fear of facing prosecution in court. If asking them nicely doesn’t work, you’ll have to take them to court; you will need a good lawyer and find some sound evidence.

Who can steal a deceased’s property?

Most people who steal properties before Inventory are people close to the deceased. They are likely to guess something is not inventoried and therefore won’t be noticed as missing. These people include:

  • Family members include children, nieces, cousins, brothers, and sisters.
  • Friends, but they won’t be friends now, will they?
  • Home nurse, health aide, or anyone else who was in charge of the deceased
  • Legal or accounting team (though not very common)
  • Strangers (even more rare)
  • Estate administrator, executor, or beneficiaries

How does theft before Inventory happen?

One way they do it is by exerting undue influence or taking advantage of the trust of a vulnerable senior. Others use lies, forgery, or manipulation. Still, others resort to threats and violence.

The other way they do it is by taking advantage of the shock and confusion accompanying the estate owner’s death. If many people are around, you won’t even know where to start and narrow down the suspects’ list.

What is estate looting?

Estate looting and theft before the Inventory could involve anything, from gifts obtained via lies and manipulations to nicking the deceased’s jewelry and estate administrator fraud and scams. Due diligence is essential when trying to figure out what’s missing. Some prominent places to begin the investigation are:

  • Tax records to determine whether the property’s title has changed and via what. Property titles can change via sale or deed. Checking the tax record will also reveal whether there are any liens on the property.
  • Statements from retirement, brokerage, and bank accounts to check for any unusual withdrawals
  •  Annuities, insurance policies, retirement, and brokerage accounts to check for any recent changes in recipients
  •  Bank accounts to check for any recently added joint account holders.
  •  Invoices and receipts for notary fees, legal expenses, and other estate planning and management services to check for over-charging
  •  Assessing state and federal tax returns to see if there was any heavy gifting
  • Closets, drawers, and safety deposit boxes to see if any cash, jewelry, paintings, or other collectibles are missing

When does theft before Inventory happen?

Assets and properties can be stolen before the owner dies, like when unscrupulous family members stash away pieces of jewelry and other expensive stuff under the owner’s nose or when the executor overcharges for their services.

It could also happen after death. Most unscrupulous individuals aim to take advantage of the shock and confusion accompanying the news of the estate owner’s passing to comb through the deceased’s belongings for valuables well before the appointment of an executor to take Inventory. In some cases, valuable artworks, jewelry, stock certificates, classic cars, cash, and more disappear before letters of testamentary are issued.

In the wake of an owner’s death, executors, trustees, and beneficiaries may also begin stealing from the estate. For example, they could intentionally leave out certain assets while taking Inventory. It’s always shrewd to keep an eye on these individuals and petition the court to remove them from their position if they are stealing.

But to get an executor or administrator fired and recover stolen or misappropriated assets, you will need good evidence. You may have to retain the services of a forensic accountant to analyze financial documents and work with an estate recovery attorney.

Remedies to theft from the estate before Inventory 

You can do some things to get back the stolen assets and properties.

Recover stolen inheritance outside the courts

You can always get the culprit to pay back what they stole or threaten to take them to court if you have good evidence and a lawyer. It’s called the quiet resolution of ‘misunderstandings.’

You can get back your stolen inheritance via a civil court.

In most cases, civil litigation is the appropriate remedy. Just collect evidence and let the courts do their thing. You may earn the following reimbursements.

  • Surcharge. If the stealing executor is also a beneficiary, the court can surcharge their share of the inheritance to compensate other beneficiaries and heirs.
  • Turnover. If you file a petition for discovery and turnover and the defendant is found to have stolen your inheritance, the court will force them to return the stolen property.
  • Removing of Trustee or Executor. You can remove the executor or trustee if found guilty of stealing.
  • Attorneys’ fees. If the executor is found guilty, they will be ordered to pay back the share of the estate they used to hire their attorney. They might also be ordered to pay your attorney’s fees.
  • Waiver of commission. A guilty executor may also be denied their commission, usually a third of the estate’s value.

Get your stolen inheritance back through criminal prosecution.

You can also get back your stolen inheritance through criminal prosecution, where the district attorney helps you bring charges against the thief. The consequences are severe here if the defendant is found guilty.

In conclusion, theft from an estate before Inventory is prominent and can happen to anyone. Knowing how it happens, who does it, and when can help stop it and even seek compensation outside the courts or by filing a civil case. In either case, you’ll need the assistance of an experienced estate recovery attorney who can work with a forensic accountant to collect, analyze and prepare evidence to support your case. Some states have a deadline for filing such claims; working with an experienced legal expert can help navigate such requirements.

Call Hess-Verdon, estate litigation attorney, for more information on what to do if your inheritance has been stolen. We’ll be glad to offer help and get your estate back. Call today at 949-706-7300.

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