What happens if a beneficiary steals from an estate?

On Behalf of | Oct 11, 2021 | Estate Planning

While most executors hope that closing an estate will go smoothly, that is not always what happens. In some situations, a misunderstanding or selfish intent from someone else involved could cause serious issues that need legal attention. If this happens, the executor has the obligation of representing the estate. 

If you currently hold the position of executor and have started the probate process for a Colorado estate, you may already have a lot on your plate. However, it is important to know that part of your duties is to protect the assets of the estate. Unfortunately, the possibility that a beneficiary may try to steal from the estate could exist. 

What is beneficiary theft? 

Beneficiary theft could occur for various reasons. In some situations, a beneficiary and the executor could simply get their signals crossed, or a misunderstanding could result in a beneficiary thinking he or she could take an item or several assets from the estate before probate closes. If this happens, it may be possible to discuss the mistake and rectify it fairly easily. If the beneficiary willingly returns the items, one can address those items when probate reaches the asset distribution stage. 

On the other hand, you may find yourself dealing with a beneficiary who intentionally takes assets from the estate while knowing that he or she is not supposed to. This could happen if the person takes physical items from the decedent’s home or if the person has access to the decedent’s bank account and withdraws funds without authorization. If the beneficiary will not willingly return the items or, even worse, has already sold assets that belong to the estate, legal action may be necessary. 

What could happen? 

As the executor, you would have the duty of bringing the theft to the attention of the probate court. You would need to act on behalf of the estate and have an obligation to defend it. Depending on the exact circumstances, the beneficiary who stole the items could face civil penalties as you address the matter in probate court and could face criminal charges as well. 

Understandably, the idea of facing such a difficult scenario seems overwhelming. Fortunately, you do not have to try to navigate such matters on your own. If you suspect a beneficiary of stealing or misappropriating estate assets, it may be best to bring it to the attention of the proper authorities.