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Inheritance Theft Laws

Penalty for Stealing from an estate
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Theft from an estate before inventory

Theft from an estate before the inventory can happen from either the Executor/Trustee or beneficiaries who may live in one of the properties. There are civil penalties if proven, and heirs can get a court order to have the missing items returned.

Penalty for Stealing from an Estate 

Inheritance theft provides the grounds to remove an Executor or Trustee. The court can order the executor or Trustee to return all stolen assets and pay damages to the beneficiaries. If felony or criminal charges are brought up against them, the Executor/Trustee can serve up to 25 years in prison. A trust attorney can help in gathering and assessing evidence, identifying damages, and representation in court.

The Penalty for Stealing from an Estate


What is the punishment for taking money from a deceased account

What is the punishment for takign money from a deceased account? We can go straight to the bottom line and state it can be a criminal offense for stealing from an estate. In simple terms, its called embezzlement. Most times, however, civil litigation is typically the remedy. Before explaining the ways an Executor, Trustee, or even a Beneficiary can steal from an estate and the penalty of theft, let’s go over the full breadth of the administration process to see where things can go wrong.

Theft from the Estate Before Inventory

Many inheritance theft cases involve theft from the estate before inventory. The executor confiscates or fails to report certain assets from the estates. To prove that there has been a theft from the estate before inventory, the plaintiff will need extensive evidence in the form of documents and testimony. Hess Verdon probate attorneys can work with expert investigators to help you build your case.

What Happens When a Beneficiary Steals from an Estate

When the Grantor dies, some family members feel they are entitled to the estate, and they rummage throughout the house looking for jewelry, hidden money, antiques, and on-and-on. Please take note, family stealing from an estate happens very secretly and only is found out when the will or Trust calls them out for the inventory. 

Inheritance Theft Laws

What are some commonly misappropriated assets?

  • Family photos, heirlooms
  • All types of furniture and small appliances
  • Jewelry, Artwork, antiques
  • Cash hidden in the home
  • In some instances, classic cars, and real estate.

So, as an Executor or a Trustee, it’s crucial to secure all assets right away, and inform all beneficiaries of your fiduciary duty and how you will be transparent on managing the estate. Now, if you believe there was pilfering that took place, you might be able to quietly resolve any “misunderstandings” by convincing the person who misappropriated the Trust assets to return them; otherwise, the penalty from stealing from an estate can be criminal if proven.

Now, if they don’t, then the uphill battle arises. You may hire a forensic accountant to review and examine the decedent’s records, i.e., financial documents and properties deeds, to ensure no underhanded dealings. With this information, you may convince the beneficiary to return the assets. It can be as simple as grabbing family albums, and they did not understand the gravity of their mistake.

File a Lawsuit to Recover Assets

As an Executor or Trustee, one fiduciary duty is to protect from the theft of estate assets. Therefore, you may have to obtain a court order from the probate judge to have missing items returned from a sibling stealing from the Trust.

If you have sufficient documentation or testimony, and the assets have not been returned, you will need to seek counsel from a Trust & Estate Litigation Attorney

What Happens when the Executor or Trustee is Stealing from the Estate?

When a Trustee is stealing from a Trust, i.e., possibly forged documents, you should act within 120 days after the Trustee gives a beneficiary notice under probate court section 16061.7. Once the mailing the announcement, the clock starts from there. Take note that you have 120 days to review all documents and challenge the Trust or Will if there is a disagreement with any documents, amendments, etc. Fraud and forgery are forms of stealing where people call and say, “my brother cheated me out of my inheritance.” Don’t allow yourself to be the person who says, “my inheritance was stolen.” You are against a time table to act! Find a Trust litigation attorney who has in-depth knowledge and help you contest the matter.

Take away:  You as a beneficiary still have your right intact if you find any misappropriation of trust funds. If there is stealing from an Executor or Trustee, the 120 days rule does not apply. If, however, the “stealing” occurred through forging of documents, and you were given notice yet did not act, you are unable to contest the Trust. 

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Penalty For Stealing From An Estate And Before Inventory

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