When a loved one dies and there is an estate left behind family members can become pretty opinionated about what happens with that estate. Unfortunately in many cases those pretty opinionated family members often feel like they are entitled to things that they are not entitled to. What do you do when you believe that someone is stealing things from your loved one’s estate?
Everyone Has Their Opinion
Beneficiaries often become pretty opinionated about how a decedent’s estate should be divided up, even when there is a will in place. It is not unusual for a beneficiary not to agree with the terms outlined in a will and contest the instrument, of course, when a will is in place. Unfortunately, according to a recent study by Caring.com in 2021, middle-aged and older adults are least likely to have a will compared to younger adults. A will and estate planning study in 2021 found that older adults are less likely to have a will than before, while younger adults are 63% more likely to have a will now than they were during the pre-pandemic days.
When there is no will and a loved one passes, in most states there is an order of precedence for the beneficiaries to receive things from the estate. Of course, not having a will makes things a whole lot more complicated and gives other beneficiaries a lot less protection when a pretty opinionated beneficiary decides that Aunt Ethel meant for her to have a classic car in the barn.
Solutions That Do Not Require a Court Action
If you believe that a beneficiary is stealing from an estate that you are a part of, the first thing you should do is confront them, but not in person. To protect yourself, it is a good idea to put everything in writing and address why you think that this person is taking what does not belong to them. Writing a letter can end in one of two ways.
The first way is that the beneficiary will be able to explain their actions that will either support your suspicions or put your suspicions to rest. The other way is that they will not respond. In either case, it is important that you can support what you are accusing the beneficiary of, and that you start a paper trail. The court will want to know what you have done to resolve the problem before you come to court.
Unlike in the case of out and out, thievery like someone steals your car if a beneficiary is stealing from an estate that is embezzlement. You cannot really call the police, you have to go to court and fight the matter in court. This is considered a civil matter. Civil matters are punishable by fines, even minor violations, but typically do not result in jail time.
Make sure that you have all your ducks in a row and a good accounting of what has been taken. If you cannot prove the accusation, then you will look like one of the pretty opinionated people that do not think an estate is being handled correctly because it is not being done as they want it to be done. You must have proof. The burden of proof is on the person that makes the claim.
If the court finds inappropriate misconduct, the beneficiary that has been proven guilty of misappropriation of estate property can be forced to pay restitution in the same amount to the other beneficiaries and court costs, fines, and other financial penalties. In rare cases, when those conditions are not met, the beneficiary can be put in jail.
Precautionary Steps You Can Take to Prevent Theft
We talked about someone stealing your car. The National Insurance Crime Bureau found about 24% of U.S. drivers had anti-theft devices installed on their cars. What does an anti-theft device for your car have to do with your loved one’s estate? Simple, just like an anti-theft device is an extra step in thwarting thieves, there are extra steps you can take to ensure none of those pretty opinionated people involved in the estate gets sticky fingers.
The most effective way to ensure that everyone stays on the up and up when it comes to estate matters is to get involved. Read the inventory list, ask the executor of the estate questions, write down the answers. Keep a paper trail of everything that has anything to do with the estate management, and finally act quickly if you suspect something is out of line. Hire a lawyer if you need to protect your interest in the estate.