Penalty for Stealing From an Estate

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“What is Penalty for Stealing from an Estate? A deceased person leaves behind a will and testament as part of the estate. In the testament, the dead will have named someone as the executor. The executor must follow all aspects of the Will. They must divide all estate assets among the appropriate parties.”

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Penalty for Stealing From an Estate

Generally, the executor closes a deceased person’s bank accounts, gathers all of the titles to property, such as a house or car, and collects items like cash, jewelry, family heirlooms, and furniture so the beneficiaries will receive all of these items, as well as stocks or business ownership, as directed by the Will.

It is common for executors to keep things they shouldn’t for themselves. Legal access to bank accounts and cash can make it easy for people to steal from estates, making it very easy for executors to cover final bills, tax bills, and any remaining medical or funeral costs. Let’s discuss in detail the Penalty for Stealing from an Estate.


When Someone Steals From The Estate Of A Deceased Person, What Happens?

A decedent’s estate is usually handled in the civil court system when someone steals from it. Generally, stealing from an estate is not a criminal offense. When stealing from an estate occurs, remedies may include those mentioned above. Those who steal from estates usually do not end up in jail.

However, theft from an estate may become a criminal matter if it is immense or someone files criminal charges.


Is It Possible For The Executor To Steal From The Estate?

The executor is responsible for doing what is in the best interest of the beneficiaries, but sometimes they breach that responsibility. Sometimes, executors steal assets or money intended for beneficiaries. Beneficiaries won’t receive their inheritances if the executor steals assets or money from the estate.

You should speak to a skilled probate litigation attorney if you suspect your deceased loved one’s executor is taking from the estate. When an executor steals from an estate, bringing charges against them can be challenging.

In cases where the executor is also a beneficiary of the estate, getting charges against them for theft from the estate can be difficult. Aside from the earlier consequences, if the executor steals from your loved one’s estate, they may be removed from office.


In A Decedent’s Estate, What Is Liable To Disappear?

People often think of stealing from a decedent’s estate when they consider stealing items like these;

  • The cash
  • Photos of the family
  • The jewelry
  • The artwork
  • Property
  • Automobiles
  • The antiques
  • The furniture
  • A family heirloom

However, numerous other ways to steal from a decedent’s estate are unique and unorthodox. They include the following.

  • In some cases, people make new Wills with different inheritances in them.
  • It is common for people to move money from their estate account to their account.
  • It’s common for people to destroy their Will, which causes things to pass according to the state’s laws about intestate succession.


Beneficiary Stealing from Estate: What Are The Consequences?

In the case of someone stealing from an estate, the legal steps and subsequent penalties may be as follows:

  • In civil affairs,
  • A criminal act.

There are many factors to consider. These include the stolen items, how they went missing, who stole them, and who will file charges against the offender.

A family member can submit a petition via an attorney asking for the return of family photos. Still, things happen if they return, and no charges or penalties apply. More minor problems are usually handled internally in this manner.

The legal process is the same for more significant court order issues. Therefore, the criminal penalties will be civil. Civil courts can only impose financial penalties, so the individuals must pay for damages and return the stolen items.

There are also criminal issues that come with criminal charges and criminal penalties.

Criminal penalties can include jail time, significant fines, and the severity of the situation. These cases typically involve forging a will, destroying pertinent documents, or embezzling. An attorney or the state can take criminal action in cases beyond petty theft.

Theft from an estate can result in several different outcomes. If someone steals from your inheritance, the court can issue a court order to force them to return it. It is also possible to file additional charges in a civil matter.

The authorities will discharge and remove executors from their positions and roles if they steal. Instead, they will appoint a new executor.


Is It Illegal For An Executor Or Trustee To Steal From An Estate?

Can an executor be charged criminally? Executors and trustees are just as concerned that they might steal estate assets. Their fiduciary role places them in a position of power and discretion.

  • Power of Attorney (POA) abuse
  • Fraudulently destroying or forging documents
  • Inducing the Grantor to modify estate planning documents to their advantage
  • The act of hiding assets or property from an estate inventory
  • Excessive fees
  • Using assets for their benefit

It is possible to challenge a trust if you suspect the estate executor somehow abused their power. Working with a forensic accountant or estate attorney to gather as much evidence and documentation as possible may be helpful.

If you wish to file a claim, remember that there are time limits. California Probate Code 16061.7 states: “If you wish to contest the trust, you must file an action within 120 days of the date this notification arrives upon you, or 60 days after receiving the trust terms within those 120 days.”


When Someone Steals From an Estate, How Can I Prove It?

What is the punishment for taking money from a deceased account? A trust litigation attorney or estate attorney can assist in bringing about a claim and filing the correct petitions in court. If you suspect someone stealing from an estate, speak to an attorney immediately. You must gather evidence to prove someone is stealing. Finding a paper trail or witnesses for minor civil cases is usually straightforward.

After the inheritance has been distributed to the entire family, you may find the stolen property in another family member’s or friend’s home. You need a paper trail to support your claim in more complex criminal matters, such as embezzlement. If you have a qualified attorney with you, you will know what evidence is needed to prove the case and how to collect it in the best way.


What will be the Penalty when caught Stealing from an Estate?

Can a trustee go to jail for stealing from trust? When caught stealing, you can return stolen property to an estate or Trust without further legal recourse. However, you are also entitled to seek legal action and penalties if we believe the theft has occurred. Typically, the probate code is the source of the applicable laws in each state.

For example, California Probate Code 85 penalizes estate theft. These individuals may have stolen, concealed, or disposed of estate property, used undue influence, or abused older adults or dependent adults financially. If the court finds an individual guilty, it may order payment of attorney fees and costs. The court may also order payment of twice the value of the stolen property.

There are several remedies available in the probate code. These include triple damages, punitive damages, and disinheritance. The severity of penalties and damages obtained varies according to the egregiousness of the offense.


Penalties Types

Those who theft from estate before inventory may face criminal charges, fines, or both. If the estate’s value is $100 or more, theft is a crime in the first degree that can be punished for up to 30 consecutive years behind bars or up to $10,000 in fines. And is punishable by up to 30 years in jail or a $10,000 fine.


Penalties Types


Penalty for civil offences

In civil cases, stealing from a will or estate may result in the court ordering the return of money or property, possibly with interest. The court may also order fines and attorney fees for the winning party.


Returning or turning over property

Beneficiaries of an estate can file a Discovery and Turnover action. The court must return the wrongfully obtained assets to the estate’s beneficiaries if it approves the turnover.


The surcharge

The beneficiaries have the right to ask the court to impose a surcharge on the person who stole. They can ask the court for a surcharge on the individual who took money or property they were not entitled to. The court can also surcharge the person who stole their share of the estate, giving it to the other beneficiaries if they are both beneficiaries and executors.


Executor’s Discharge

In the case of theft, the Surrogate’s Court can remove the executor and replace them with an estate beneficiary. Usually, the beneficiary files a misconduct case against the previous executor, who appoints the new executor.


Fees for attorneys

A court may order an executor to reimburse the estate for the legal fees they incurred in property stolen after death from the estate. Since the estate funds executors’ legal costs, the estate might have to cover these fees.


Commission Waiver

The executor who oversees an estate is entitled to a commission of 3% of its value. A court may waive an executor’s commission if he has stolen from the estate.


Penalties for criminal offenses

Very few estate theft allegations reach the level of criminal prosecution. However, if substantial amounts are involved and strong evidence supports the claim, it can lead to criminal prosecution.


The executor or administrator may claim that they paid estate expenses,

In cases of theft, the executor or administrator may claim that they paid estate expenses, took their share as a beneficiary, funded the legal fees of the estate, or mixed up funds. Without a plea agreement between the executor and the District Attorney, it is up to the court to decide if these claims are valid.


Penal law

It is a crime to steal from an estate as set out in penal law. Larceny is wrongfully taking, obtaining, or withholding something that belongs to another person.


Guidelines for Sentencing

The punishment for theft varies depending on the amount lost; a person may receive a 30-year prison sentence or a $10,000 fine.


The restitution process

If a trustee or administrator steals from an estate, the court can order them to return the property and pay restitution to the beneficiaries. Anyone with access to the estate funds, including trustees, administrators, lawyers, caregivers, and others, can be charged with stealing.


What Can You Do To Avoid Penalty for Stealing From an Estate?

What if an executor steals from the estate? You may feel tempted to withdraw more money than you deserve from an estate, but it constitutes stealing, regardless of your intentions. Banks and courts take certain precautions to alert them if fraud is suspected. Take only what you have permission to avoid penalties.


Stay away from self-dealing.

Taking funds directly from an estate account and putting them in your account is self-dealing. Even if you have paid for the assets, avoid direct transfers.


Keeping in touch with beneficiaries

Keeping the beneficiaries informed about your plans and withdrawals from the estate is essential to avoid problems and misunderstandings.


Keep funds separate from each other.

Having separate accounts for your and the estate’s funds is essential—an executor who commingles funds with the estate.


Don’t spend estate funds on personal expenses.

There is a restriction that estate funds may not go for personal expenses such as taxes. You can only use estate funds for taxes and legal fees.


Distribute property only with the consent of the beneficiaries.

When you’re the executor, you’re responsible for distributing assets after making payments to creditors and taking inventory of the estate. Be sure to have the beneficiaries sign a release stating that they will not sue you in the future and agree with the allocation of assets. An accounting report clearly showing the disbursement of funds is often attached to a signed release, a legal document.


Recovering Your Money and Assets

If you contact an estate attorney immediately, they can begin collecting evidence through discovery, including interviewing witnesses and gathering documentation to prove your case.

In most instances, family members or close friends of the person who stole from the estate do not file criminal charges. These cases usually take place in civil court rather than criminal court.


Keeping Your Estate Safe

It may seem impossible to imagine that anyone close to you could be capable of stealing. Still, you can use secure estate planning solutions to prevent such a situation. Attorney Real Estate Group helps its clients take advantage of ultra-high-net-worth estate planning strategies that protect their legacy from preventable losses.

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