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My Brother Cheated Me Out of my Inheritance. How Can I Get the Money Back?

a cartoon of a butterfly net used to catch a thief, to show my brother cheated me out of my inheritance

If  your brother cheated you out of your inheritance, there’s a lot you can do. You have legal options available and an estate lawyer will likely be able to get the money and property back for you.

Before you hire a lawyer, you can try to recover stolen inheritance yourself by asking your brother to restore or return it back to the estate.

This may or may not work, but you can always just ask your brother to return the money or property. It could be that his plan was to only take the property if he could get away with it. Now that he is discovered, he may decide to cut his losses and not have to deal with a civil lawsuit or even criminal prosecution, and he might just return the money or property in question.

As a matter of fact, you can put this article on pause and try to get in touch with him right now.

If that worked, great, we’re done here.

If that did not work, you can keep on reading. Your next step would probably be to sue your brother in court. If you are looking for a lawyer, we at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. You can send us an email at attorneyalbertgoodwin@gmail.com or call us at 718-509-9774 to discuss your options.

Once you get an attorney, they will ask you about the circumstances of the theft. Eventually, your attorney will put all of those circumstances in writing and will submit the writing to the court in a form of a petition or complaint.

People sometimes get cheated by their brother. The temptation is simply too hard to resist. It basically comes down to greed. Siblings can come up with all sorts of elaborate excuses and then use a number of schemes to cover up what they did. When siblings have a strained relationship or when they were geographically separated for a long time, they will sometimes deny the other siblings their share of the inheritance.

What are the red flags that your brother cheated you out of your inheritance?

There are potential red flags that your brother cheated you out of your inheritance:

  • A recent and unexplained increase in your brother’s spending
  • Your brother buying nicer and more expensive clothing
  • Bought or leased a new car
  • Bough a new house or is renovating their house
  • Sending their kids to an expensive school

While those things don’t prove that your brother is stealing from the estate, they could be red flags.

What can we do about the cheating?

The simple answer is, we try to get the money back. Where an executor refuses to return the money, we sue the executor and execute his property in favor of the estate. There are a number of remedies available to force your brother to return the money.

Turnover Proceeding. If your brother stole property as opposed to money, your estate lawyer can bring a proceeding for turnover of the property.

Surcharge. Your lawyer can petition the court to surcharge your brother for the amount he cheated you out of. If your brother is the executor, then the court can surcharge his share of the estate, giving some or all of your brother’s share to you and the other beneficiaries. Surcharge here means charging the person who stole the money with having to return the money. It’s a legal term, used a little differently than the common way we use the word surcharge.

Accounting. The standard process in the Surrogate’s Court is to compel your brother to provide a formal accounting. Once your brother provides the accounting, the beneficiary has a chance to object to the accounting. If the court finds that your brother stole from the estate, the court will surcharge your brother. If your brother is also a beneficiary, the court will deduct the money from your brother’s share. If your brother is not a beneficiary, the court can surcharge him with the money he stole.

Bonding. Sometimes there is a bond on a brother who is an executor. A bond is a kind of insurance against executor theft. If you are lucky enough that there is a bond, or your estate lawyer was experienced enough to apply for a bond, then you can make a claim against the bonding company if your brother is found to steal money or property but the money is impossible to recover from your brother.

But how about if your brother is also a beneficiary? Don’t some of the money in the estate also belong to him?

For example, a lady left her inheritance to her four children. Can the executor-brother steal from the estate and say that he is just withdrawing his own cash? The answer to that is absolutely not.

Even though your brother is one of the beneficiaries of the estate account, at the end of the day the is not his. The estate belongs to all the beneficiaries. So if your brother withdraws cash from the estate account, he is considered by the law to be taking everyone’s money, not just his own.

As an example, if he withdraws four thousand dollars in cash, he is not considered to be taking four thousand dollars of his own cash from the estate account. Rather, he is considered to be cheating each one of his brothers out of a thousand dollars. If he withdraws a penny, most of that penny belongs to the other beneficiaries.

What are the potential penalties when my brother cheated me out of my inheritance?

What can happen if your brother is an executor and neglects good advice and cheats the estate? Nothing good.

  • Your brother can be removed from being executor can be by the judge on the case
  • The court will force your brother to return the money
  • The court might order your brother to pay for his own attorneys’ fees as opposed to using estate funds to pay for his attorney’s fees
  • The judge may even order your brother to pay the wronged brother’s attorneys’ fees
  • What is scarier is that if your brother is an executor, they could be criminally prosecuted for stealing. That’s right, a criminal prosecution even if the executor is one of the beneficiaries of the estate and even if the amount he took is less than his stake in the estate account. The Surrogate’s Court judge can refer the case to the District Attorney’s office, which has the power to prosecute the case in criminal court

Although we talk about a brother who is an executor, the same rules apply to a brother in any of the other fiduciary roles:an administrator and a trustee, as well as a preliminary executor, administrator d.b.n., administrator c.t.a.d.b.n., administrator c.t.a., ancillary executor, ancillary administrator, and ancillary administrator c.t.a. [1]

Above, we’ve referred to the executor as a manager. The legal term for someone managing money, including an executor is “fiduciary.” [2] New York’s Estates, Powers and Trusts Law governs the conduct of an estate fiduciary, as well as a trustee and an agent under a Power of Attorney.

New York Consolidated Laws, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law – EPT § 11-1.6 states that “Every fiduciary shall keep property received as fiduciary separate from his individual property.  He shall not invest or deposit such property with any corporation or other person doing business under the banking law, or with any other person or institution, in his own name, but all transactions by him affecting such property shall be in his name as fiduciary.” [3]This includes taking cash from an estate account.

New York’s Penal Law (the Criminal Law) states that “A person steals property and commits larceny when, with intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or to a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner thereof.” [4]

The estate is the owner of the funds. By cheating their siblings, a brother who is an executor commits larceny.

New York Penal Law continues to say that “Larceny includes a wrongful taking, obtaining or withholding of another’s property, with the intent prescribed in subdivision one of this section, committed … by conduct heretofore defined or known as common law larceny by trespassory taking, common-law larceny by trick, embezzlement, or obtaining property by false pretenses.” [5]

To sum up, brothers who are executors should keep estate funds where they belong, in the estate account. Whenever they receive any funds relating to the estate in any way, those funds should be deposited into the estate and not withdrawn without either signed consent from each and every beneficiary or an order of the court authorizing your brother to disburse the funds.

Whether you are a beneficiary who thinks that your brother is cheating you out of your inheritance, or if you are an executor and you feel that your sibling is falsely accusing you of stealing from the estate account, 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 attorneyalbertgoodwin@gmail.com.

[1] NY EPTL § 11-1.1

[2] NY EPTL § 11-1.1

[3] NY EPTL § 11-1.6

[4] NY PEN § 155.05

[5] NY PEN § 155.05