Executor of Estate Information:
Can you Remove Items from an Estate without Permission?
Deaths in the family are commonly heart-rending and confusing events. Many questions can arise surrounding the decedent’s San Diego estate, especially involving the items in and around the home of the departed loved one that are not included in the will.
Clients often ask: After someone dies, can a family member remove items from a San Diego home without permission? The answer is, no! No one should remove items from a home after someone dies unless they get approval from the executor or administrator of the San Diego estate.
When someone dies with a will, an executor is appointed to administer the San Diego estate. The executor has the duty and powers to settle the decedent’s San Diego estate according to the guidelines of the will. Part of the executor’s duties include getting an appraisal of the decedent’s personal property, which includes such possessions as the San Diego home’s furnishings, vehicles, bank holdings, stocks, and other belongings. The San Diego executor also must account for the decedent’s interest in real property, which may include land, commercial buildings, and other homes.
Accordingly, a San Diego executor can’t stand by while a decedent’s personal property walks out the door as if it were suddenly up for grabs on a first-come, first-served basis. If, for instance, a big-screen television were specifically willed to someone, the San Diego executor has a duty to make sure that person gets the TV. If, however, the television was not bequeathed to a particular person, it should be included in the general inventory of the San Diego estate. The San Diego executor can then decide whether to sell the television in order to convert it to cash for distribution according to the will or to distribute it to a beneficiary in lieu of cash.
Preserving the property in the estate becomes crucial so that the San Diego executor can distribute the decedent’s property as dictated by the will. In some cases, San Diego executors physically secure a home with locks so that the belongings inside can be preserved for appraisal and distribution.
As a matter of practicality, most wills are not specific enough to account for every television, chair, and teacup. But that doesn’t mean that a friend or relative of the decedent can cart off these belongings as if they were free. If a family member or friend were to take property, it would be considered breaking the law. Every situation is different, but it’s certainly possible that someone taking estate property could be charged with burglary or theft. Ownership doesn’t go into limbo when someone dies – the property belongs to the estate of the decedent until it is distributed. So if someone takes property that wasn’t willed to him or her or distributed to him or her by the San Diego executor, he or she has committed a crime.
For example, we had a San Diego estate property sale where the decedent’s caretaker believed that the owner had gifted him with some very valuable items. When the San Diego executor showed up to review the personal items and prepare the San Diego property for sale, she discovered items missing. She immediately contacted the caretaker to bring the items back to the home because they were part of the estate and they would need to be inventoried and given to whomever they were willed to. Fortunately, the story ended well with the caretaker bringing them back. During another estate sale that I was the real estate representative for, the caretaker had convinced the decedent to take a loan out against the house. Within months, the full loan of $100,000 was reduced to nothing. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances surrounding this transaction, there was nothing the law could do since there was no proof that the money was not used by the decedent.
The bottom line is that people have to exercise a little patience and common sense. In most cases, the San Diego executor is part of the family, and families usually can work together to divide property in a way that’s acceptable to everyone. However, bringing the trailer over to grandma’s house and spiriting away the antique dresser you’ve always wanted definitely isn’t the way to go. If there are items that you wish to inherit, cooperate with the executor or administrator and be patient. While letting them know you wish to inherit an item doesn’t guarantee you will receive it, it does alert them that you are interested in a particular piece.
If you are the executor or administrator of a San Diego estate property, call me, Kim Ward, at (619) 741-0111. I have the necessary experience in probate real estate to help you with any asset distribution issues.