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Probate Problem: How to Divide a Loved One’s Possessions

The most immediate and common problem we encounter with Probate properties is family members who plunder the decedent’s home. It’s sad and strange but many of the prohibitions family have felt about coveting a loved one’s possessions vanish after the person has passed. Far too often, the day after the funeral family members show up with trucks and take whatever they can from the house. The real problem with this is not that the items have been passed on to family but the long term effects of family members who are angry about who took what and how. It is very difficult to retrieve items after they have left the house. In many cases, we have encountered Probate cases where family members have gone so far as to remove major appliances, doors and even piping.

This can be a problem even when a will or trust is present. The average person has far too many possessions to describe their dispensation in full detail. They may note specific and certain items that are to be passed on but by neglecting to appoint one or two people to be responsible for dispersing the rest they create a situation where loved ones are scrambling to remove things from the house. This can be aggravated if many members of the family have access to the house, as is often the case after a long illness or for elderly family members who require assistance.

The best solution is to avoid ever creating the problem by specifying a person in your will or estate to take charge of the dispensation of all personal possessions that are not explicitly identified in the document. This person becomes the catch-all responsible for ethically and equitably splitting up the decedent’s possessions.

If no such person has been identified and as an executor you are concerned about family members who may attempt to remove items from the house, it is within your authority to restrict access to the home. You can change the locks or padlock the house until you have time to enter and sort belongings. In our experience, a convenient way to justify this is to blame it on the lawyer. Most family members will happily project their frustration with the situation onto the attorney. Though you may experience a momentary frustration from family members, in our experience the long term resentment and problems from the house being ransacked far outweigh any problems that arise from temporarily restricting access to the decedent’s home.

One Bike Specializes in Probate property. If you have any questions or need an assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us!




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