An executor's primary duties are to safeguard a decedent's possessions and to properly distribute the possessions according to the decedent's will or according to the laws of the state if there is no will. Obviously, an executor is not to take possession of items from the estate. If someone suspects that the executor is stealing items from the estate, the person should take prompt action to recover the items and prevent further theft.
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The primary problem with estate theft is proving that the theft occurred. If a beneficiary, or other person, believes an executor is stealing from an estate, that person should document any available evidence. For example, a neighbour may have seen the executor or another person removing items from the decedent's home. Beneficiaries should ask to see financial records as well for the estate as well. If the executor removed money from an account without explanation, banks and other financial institutions will have records of these transactions.
Stealing items from an estate is theft and anyone who suspects theft from an estate should report it to the police. When making the report, offer the police all available evidence that a crime occurred, including the names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses. As proving theft from an estate is difficult, a person should offer any assistance possible to the police. Many police departments take anonymous reports over the phone and Internet for those who do not want his name involved in the report, as may be the case when the executor is a family member.
In addition to reporting theft from an estate to the police, a person should also report the theft to the court handling the estate. As the court may have familiarity with the problem of people stealing from an estate, a report to the court may speed police response to the allegation. Also, a person can request that the court remove the current executor and appoint a replacement to handle the estate, helping to reduce the chances of further theft.
One responsibility of an executor is to complete an inventory of the estate's possessions. Though this may take some time, especially for estates with significant investments and real estate holdings, the completion of the inventory should be a high priority. Beneficiaries should request information regarding the completion of the inventory from the executor on a regular basis to assure its prompt completion. Once the executor completes the inventory, it is unlikely the executor can remove items from the estate without notice.
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- The Martin Law Firm; Executors' Responsibility to Protect Estate Property; December 2010
- Statesman.com; Fighting the Touchy Battle of Estate Theft; Tony Plohetski; June 2008
- Law Offices of Janet Brewer; Facing Executor or Trustee Dishonesty: a Probate Attorney Perspective; Janet Brewer; June 2010
- San Jose Police Department: Reporting Crime in San Jose