You can recover stolen inheritance by requesting the alleged thief to restore or return it back to the estate or filing a petition to recover it with the court. When attempting to recover stolen inheritance, it’s always best to be represented by competent counsel.
How an Inheritance can be stolen
Inheritance can be stolen by an executor, administrator, or a beneficiary, such as a sibling. There are more than a hundred ways of stealing from an estate. Generally, the person attempting to steal would gain the trust of the testator and use undue influence, lies, threats, manipulation, isolation, or forgery to obtain gifts, transfers, bequests, and devises from the testator or to steal from the testator. As such, stealing can be done both before or after the death of the testator. It could be as simple as getting jewelry and other valuable personal property from the belongings of the decedent, or the administrator or executor over-charging the estate for fees or expenses related to administration, to something more complex, such as an adult child who is the primary caregiver of his parent using undue influence to gain control of real property that should have been divided among the parent’s children in equal shares.
How to determine if inheritance was stolen
If you suspect that your inheritance has been stolen, immediately conduct your own due diligence and consult with a trust litigation attorney. Some places to start the investigation are: (a) tax records to see whether title to property has changed via deed or sale, and whether any liens have been placed on real property; (b) bank, brokerage, and retirement account statements to see if there have been unusually large withdrawals; (c) change in beneficiary designations on insurance policies, annuities, brokerage accounts, and retirement accounts, to see if there are recent replacements made; (d) bank accounts to see if another joint account holder has been added; (e) receipts and invoices for legal expenses, notary fees, or other estate planning services; (f) federal and state tax returns to determine if there had been gifts to others; and (g) examination of personal property in drawers, closets, and safety deposit boxes to see if jewelry, coins, bonds, cash, and other collectibles are missing.
Penalty for Theft of Estate Assets
The theft of estate assets is civil in nature, and not criminal. Hence, the alleged thief will not go to jail, but will be required to pay the injured party. Still, theft is a serious allegation, and one will need evidence to support this claim. When going through this route, it is better to hire the services of a trust litigation attorney to ensure that one is doing the right steps to recover the stolen inheritance.
Inheritance Stolen Before Death
This usually occurs when a caregiver, child, friend, neighbor, new spouse, or advisor uses his personal relationship with the testator to obtain or take money from him, to the detriment of the testator’s distributees. To prevent this, one must immediately consult with an estate planning or probate attorney who can help and advise on how to proceed. Some actions one may take are: (a) become more involved with the parent to see if anyone is trying to take undue advantage of their old age; (b) learn more about conservatorships or guardianships and see which is the better avenue to take in managing the parent’s affairs; and/or (c) ask the parent about issuing a financial power of attorney, so that one can help them manage their finances.
Inheritance Stolen After Testator’s Death by Executor or Administrator
When it is the executor or administrator who is stealing from the estate, an interested person can petition the court to suspend and/or remove the executor or administrator. However, if you want to know how to recover stolen inheritance, you need to be aware of the fact that evidence of fraudulent activity is required. Together with an attorney, there may be a need to hire a forensic accountant to analyze the accounting documents to see if there is evidence of fraud.
Inheritance Stolen After Testator’s Death But Before Inventory
Most inheritance theft cases occur before inventory. When someone dies, family members rummage through the belongings of the decedent to get anything of value, even before an executor is appointed to conduct inventory. By the time letters testamentary have been issued, most personal assets, such as expensive jewelry, artwork, antiques, cash hidden in the home, classic cars, stock certificates, and bonds or notes payable to bearer, have already been pillaged. For this reason, the executor may fail to include certain assets in the inventory. If you suspect that a family member has stolen from the decedent’s belongings prior to inventory and want to now how to recover stolen inheritance, it is important to conduct an extensive investigation to obtain evidence prior to filing a suit to recover the missing items.
Ultimately, when deciding whether to file a petition to recover stolen inheritance or not, one must evaluate the strength of the evidence on hand, the value of the assets, and the time to be wasted and the legal costs spent in recovering it. This will provide one with an informed decision on whether recovering stolen inheritance is worth pursuing or not.
If you want to learn more about how to recover stolen inheritance, we, at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin, are here for you. We have offices in New York, NY, Brooklyn, NY and Queens, NY. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at email@example.com.