Once someone dies, the executor of the estate assumes control and authority over their assets until they complete the probate process. The executor has a responsibility to pay outstanding debts, close accounts held by the deceased individual and distribute assets fairly among beneficiaries and heirs as planned by the testator.
Unfortunately, it can sometimes happen that an executor starts looking for assets, only to find that many valuable possessions no longer seem to be in the house of the deceased. It may be possible that family members, especially those with regular access to the deceased, such as a spouse or a child serving as caregiver, stole those assets for personal benefit. They may also have drained money or other assets from the estate before their loved one died.
Such actions could lead to an estate challenge or court proceedings to ensure that estate administration reflects that misconduct.
Some people outright steal assets, while others trick the testator
There are two primary ways in which unscrupulous people can unfairly alter the value of an estate and alter the amount of the total estate that they receive as an inheritance. Some people will visit their loved ones and then sneak out expensive possessions, like pieces of jewelry, without anyone realizing what they did.
Other times, the approach is somewhat more subtle. Those with regular access to an older adult or someone with severe health issues may abuse their position by exerting undue influence aimed at convincing the person they should be helping to give them assets intended as part of their estate when they die.
Family members could take out a loan from your loved one without a written contract, knowing they won’t have to fully repay it. They could even deprecate their siblings or intentionally isolate a sick, aging or dying family member from those who care about them in order to improve their inheritance.
Theft from family members is more common than you think
From taking out loans that people have no intention to repay to stealing items that they don’t want their siblings to receive from their parents, there are numerous ways that people can defraud an estate and the testator who created it.
Watching for signs of this kind of unscrupulous behavior can help you take actions to reclaim those assets or at least have the courts adjust the administration of the estate to reflect their possession by one of the beneficiaries.