From Our “Ask a Question” mailbag: How Does An Executor Recover Stolen Property?
“My father was an avid hunter and assembled an impressive gun collection. I am the executor of his Will, and he divided the collection between my sister and myself. During his funeral, my sister left the funeral, drove to his house, and emptied the gun safe. She took all the guns. Now she will not return my calls. How does an executor recover stolen property?”
As the executor of your father’s estate, you have the power to gather all of his assets. These assets include his bank accounts, land and all of his personal property. When someone refuses to release estate property, there is a process that you must follow.
Becoming the Executor, Gaining the Authority.
Until the county recognizes you as being the Executor, you have no power. The Will itself is only paper. Your authority to manage your father’s assets comes from the county official recognizing that paper as your father’s will. Once accepted, the county official must then identify you as being the executor named in the Will. Once done, the Register or Surrogate issues you paperwork officially recognizing you as the executor. That paperwork is what gives you the power to gather your father’s assets.
Until you are recognized as the executor you have no rights to control your father’s property. In the same manner, you sister also has no power. But, she has the gun collection. Until you are executor, you have no authority to demand the collection’s return.
How Does An Executor Recover Stolen Property?
Once you are named executor you have the legal authority to collect all your father’s assets. While it might be tempting the call the police and report your sister, as a practical matter this might not help. Most of the collection might be hard to identify and the police are in a difficult position. What is your fathers and what is your sisters?
The correct path is to bring the matter before a judge. We can accomplish this in different ways.
First, we could file a petition in the court asking the judge to order the gun collection’s return. If your sister refuses, then we are before the judge, and your sister must explain why she has failed to comply with the order.
Second, if you would prefer cash instead of your share of the gun collection, we can submit an accounting to the judge stating the collection’s value. In the same accounting, you can credit your sister with an early distribution equal to the gun collections’ value and award yourself that amount of cash. Should your sister care to dispute the value, she now is the unenviable position of arguing that she stole guns of a lesser value than you say she did.
Depending on your father’s will’s terms, other options might exist. His other assets might also provide us with negotiating points.
Who Pays the Cost for Recovery?
Because you are the executor, the estate pays the cost of having an attorney assist you with recovering estate property. As the estate is divided between your sister and yourself, her half of the estate is paying half the recovery cost. She will also be paying 100% of her own lawyer’s fee. This fact might also help her decide to return the collection.
In conclusion, this post attempted to explain how does an executor recover stolen property. Feel free to contact an experienced Estate Planning Lawyer at our firm for more information.
Furthermore, I would be happy to answer your questions. If you have any other matters for a Probate Lawyer, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. We try to make the process as painless as possible!
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Author Philadelphia Probate Attorney Peter Klenk, Esq., Licensed in PA, NJ, MN, FL, and NY.
Peter Klenk, Probate Lawyer
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