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What happens if estate assets are missing?

During the probate process, the personal representative (which is sometimes referred to as the executor) will inventory the estate of the deceased. Occasionally, documents or assets that the personal representative knows about may be difficult to find. A missing asset may have been misplaced over time, but problems can arise if suspicions arise between family members concerning the whereabouts of large assets.

  • Did a family member take assets surreptitiously?
  • Did the personal representative mishandle estate assets?
  • Did a trust administrator misuse his or her power and breach a fiduciary duty?

Missing assets can easily lead to litigation. Inheritance disputes can involve complex legal analysis concerning the estate or trust administration process itself. However, it may be during the process that uncovers a prior act (or set of acts) that resulted in a drastic decrease in the value of an estate.

Prompt Action Is Vital If You Suspect Assets Are Missing Or Mishandled

Family members often obtain valid powers of attorney while an aging loved one deteriorates in health. Powers of attorney may be misused, whether through a brazen act of fraud, or due to a misunderstanding. Sibling rivalries may be involved when assets suddenly go missing. A person may have a misguided belief that mom or dad "always wanted me to have that item anyway." More direct access may occur without legal documentation, such as obtaining access to a safe.

Similarly, people may seek the transfer of title through undue influence, obtaining ownership of valuable vehicles or real estate. When a personal representative suspects assets are missing, or when an heir or other beneficiary believes that property has been taken by someone close to the deceased, prompt legal action is critical.

In some instances, it may be possible to recover an asset by agreement, such as a family heirloom that was taken without permission of the probate court. However, in some situations it may be necessary to prove fraud, undue influence or breach of fiduciary duty in court. For that reason, seeking the help of experienced trial counsel at the first sign of trouble can help you to protect your inheritance rights.

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