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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Attorney accused of stealing $300,000 from a friend's estate

Yet another estate has made the news because of alleged dishonesty. This one is in California. In this case it's a lawyer friend of the deceased who is accused of theft. The case was brought to light by a beneficiary who didn't receive the expected inheritance.

It's not clear to me from reading this article just who is the executor of the estate. Apparently it was not the accused lawyer. Click here to read the story. Note that in the US the word "attorney" in the title means a lawyer, unlike here in Canada where it means a person acting under a Power of Attorney.

Often beneficiaries approach me to ask about their rights when an estate is not being dealt with, or information is being withheld by the executor. Of course they are worried; this story is an example of what sometimes happens when a dishonest person is tempted by estate assets. I sometimes remind beneficiaries that they have both a right and an obligation to watch what is going on in an estate.

Some beneficiaries tell me they feel greedy if they ask outright for their inheritance or ask for explanations for missing funds. But if the beneficiaries aren't going to monitor the executor's actions, who is? Insisting that the estate be wound up in a reasonable time and that you receive your entitlement under the will doesn't make you greedy; it means you are ensuring that the executor carry out the duties as the deceased intended.

Fortunately, most estates that take too long or are conducted in unnecessary secretiveness do not end up with large sums of money missing. They are simply a dog's breakfast because a first-time executor doesn't know what he or she is doing. However, the beneficiaries won't know everything is ok unless they ask.

Attached graphic from http://www.dreamstime.com/.

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