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"Thou Shalt Not Steal" was not written with an exception for decedents' estates. The scriptural words of Exodus are clear - Thou Shalt Not Steal.
It seems a little unique to address the Seventh Commandment in a trust, estate and probate litigation blog - but it is a Commandment worth reiterating to those sometimes lost in the fog of gathering together the assets of a deceased person. Whether through sheer uncertainty of action or malevolent greed, the fact remains that many estates are the target of theft or unlawful taking.
The objects of theft are as commonplace as the decedent's pets; family pictures; cash; coin collections; tools; guns; jewelry; furniture and cars. It is one thing for family members to make their best efforts for an equitable split among heirs and quite another for one family member, neighbor or other interloper to take what does not belong to him or her.
It seems amazing that such behavior - whether openly brazen or clothed in secrecy - should occur so frequently. For some wrongdoers, it's as though they see a sign on the decedent's home - "This property belongs to an estate and it is yours for the taking."
We often challenge estate thefts and nearly as often hear the taker justify the taking by asserting that "the items weren't worth anything." It is common sense that a burglar's defense that the personal property that he purloined is valueless will not have much credibility. In essence, is a theft from an estate really any different than shoplifting?
Our practice focuses on estate, trust and probate litigation. While it can be quite expensive to argue over sentimental personal property our experience is that many times these matters may be resolved inexpensively with a supervised personal property division.
If you are a wronged heir or abused trust beneficiary and you want to know your rights to correct estate wrongdoing, call us at Hackard Law. You can reach us at (916) 313-3030.