How to Recover Stolen Inheritance
You may not think that it can happen, but stolen inheritances are more common than might be expected. If you ever find yourself in this situation, you need to know the proper steps to take right from the start to have a better chance of recovering.
How Can Your Inheritance be Stolen?
Your inheritance can be stolen in different ways. Someone may physically take the item, especially if you inherited something like jewelry. In other cases, they may lay claim to the item by using it or taking it over. It’s even possible to have the title changed to someone else’s name even if it belonged to you.
Sometimes, the person may not even realize they have stolen the inheritance. They may assume it was meant for them or had discussed getting the item with the decedent when they were still alive. How you deal with a stolen inheritance depends on the situation.
Keep Good Documents
If you know who has your inheritance, you will need to keep good documents to get it back. The will states who is to receive certain items. However, not every piece of property may be named individually, so there may be some disagreement about who is the owner.
You will need to keep records of any communication with the person who stole your inheritance. It’s best to communicate through email as much as possible to have a written record of conversations. You may be able to record phone conversations, but you’ll need to check your state law to find out what is allowed.
Keep information about dates and times and any suspicious or unusual behavior around the timeline of the theft. Even if you don’t know who stole the item, any information you can provide can help with recovery.
Ask for Your Inheritance Back
Even though this might seem obvious, many people assume that the theft was intentional and never think to ask for their property back. If you show evidence that the item belongs to you, the person may be willing to give it back.
Even if they stole it intentionally, proof that you are the owner may be enough to make them return the item. They likely don’t want to deal with the legal system if you can prove your case.
Seek Legal Help with a Probate Attorney
If you know your inheritance has been stolen, the best first step you can take is to seek legal advice from a probate attorney. They can provide guidance and assistance on what you can do to get your item returned. You will need to give the lawyer some information about the situation.
What Was Stolen?
The attorney will need to know what was stolen to determine how best to proceed with getting it back. Inheritance money is often the first thing that comes to mind, and it can be the hardest to track and recover.
You may have lost sentimental personal items that have been handed down from one generation to another. The stolen item could be a vehicle or even a house or land. You will need to provide a copy of the will that lists the inheritance for the lawyer to file a lawsuit against the person who stole from you.
Who Was the Thief?
You may know who the thief was or have a good idea of who took your inheritance. If you have proof, you need to present it to the probate attorney when they ask this question along with the name of the culprit.
If you aren’t sure who is guilty or have no evidence, you will want to present a list of names along with the reasons you believe they would take the inheritance. It may be a jealous sibling who is angry that they were left out of the will or a family member who talked about how much they wanted the stolen item when the deceased person was still alive.
While family members are often the first looked at when an inheritance is stolen, you must also consider any business associates who may have had access to the finances or other assets. It could be the executor of the estate or a financial advisor who had control of accounts.
When Did the Theft Happen?
This question isn’t always as easy to answer. If it’s a physical item, you may only be able to provide the date when you noticed it was missing. In truth, the item could have been stolen days or weeks before.
If the asset is money in an account, it might be easier to track. However, in many cases, the theft was in the process sometime before it actually happened. The thief could have developed a friendship with the deceased while they were still living, planning to steal from the estate once they died. They may have convinced the decedent to change their will or threatened the person with harm.
How Was It Stolen?
This question and the timeline for when the theft occurred go together. For instance, the thief may have convinced the decedent to change their will or manipulated them in some other way to gain access to the inheritance. This would indicate that the theft happened before the decedent died.
In another situation where the theft involved a physical item, it may have occurred before inventory was taken and the property secured. If the thief was the executor, they could have delayed taking inventory or claimed the item was missing. They may not provide information when asked about estate assets.
Once you have all these questions answered for the attorney, the next step will be to determine if you have a solid case and if it’s worth filing a lawsuit. The answer isn’t always as simple as you might think.
Determining If the Case is Worth Pursuing
The job of the attorney is to provide you with all the information to help you make the right decision. The law firm can’t tell you if you will win the case. All they can do is state the facts. They will give you an idea of how much it will cost to pursue a case. The attorney can also review the evidence and let you know how effective it will be in court.
The value of the inheritance will also be an important factor in deciding whether to move forward. If the stolen assets are valuable, it may be worth the cost to file a lawsuit. Value is usually considered in financial terms, but you must also think about sentimental value. If something was stolen that is irreplaceable, it may be worth pursuing at any cost.
The Cost of the Lawsuit
When it comes to calculating the cost of filing a lawsuit, you must consider the lawyer’s fees. There will also be filing fees to put the lawsuit on the court’s docket. You may want to consider how much it will cost you in lost income if you must take time away from your job.
Recovery of the Inheritance
When you discuss your case with your attorney, you’ll want to ask how long you think the process will take until you get your stolen assets back. Part of the timeline will depend on how long you are in court. Once the case has been completed, you will be waiting until the inheritance is either returned or repaid.
Winning the lawsuit is quite different from getting the inheritance back. The court may not be able to force the return of the inheritance, especially if it is money.
Proving Your Case
It can be quite difficult to prove your case if you don’t know when the theft happened or aren’t sure who is to blame. You will need to do some detective work to get the evidence you require to prove your claim in court.
If you suspect something has been stolen but aren’t sure what it is, you’ll need to conduct your own inventory of the decedent’s estate. You may notice large withdrawals from bank accounts or changes in beneficiaries with life insurance policies, retirement accounts, or of other assets. If someone else is named as the beneficiary instead of the family member or if a title was transferred to another person, you will likely need to prove that the decedent was coerced into making those changes or manipulated by someone stealing your rightful inheritance.
If the theft was of money from a business or other fraudulent activity, you may need a forensic accountant to go through the records. Of course, you won’t need to take care of all this yourself. Your probate attorney will hire someone with experience in this area.
For physical items, you may have difficulty proving the person has possession of it. If the theft is of real property or large items, such as their classic cars, the title or deed would have to be changed. You would need to prove that the decedent was manipulated or threatened into giving them the property.
For smaller missing items, you may have difficulty proving they exist. If they have significant value, these items may have been insured, such as with expensive jewelry or artwork. Many times, the thief will sell these assets quickly to get the money and remove the item from their possession.
What Happens to the Thief of a Stolen Inheritance?
If you decide to pursue litigation against the person who stole your inheritance, it will most likely go through civil court. It is unlikely that any criminal charges will be brought up unless it meets certain criteria, such as embezzlement.
If the executor of the estate is the person stealing the inheritance, they will be relieved of their duties and removed by the probate court. You will need to show that they have not performed their fiduciary duty for the estate. The legal ramifications may include them losing their commission and being required to pay back the value of what was stolen.
Can You Avoid Having Your Inheritance Stolen?
While you may not be able to avoid every situation, you can reduce the risk of a stolen inheritance by creating a trust of all assets. When the estate is put into a trust as part of an estate plan, it is better protected. A trust attorney can help you set up the estate to ensure all assets are included.
If you want to know how to recover stolen inheritance assets of any kind, the first step is to speak with an attorney for legal advice. A free consultation can allow you to present your situation and determine if you can and should move forward with legal action. Stolen assets aren’t always easy to get back, but only you can decide if it’s worth your time and money to hire attorneys to sue family members or others who have stolen certain assets that were rightfully yours.