A family has passed near one month ago. I reside in a different state. The passed family member did have a will or multiple wills along with multiple properties/bank accounts/ cars/ property. The will has been stolen from her estate. Where do I look to find the will? Do I need an attorney in their residing state? What is to happen to the person who took the will and is distributing property against the deceased person's wishes? I have been granted inheritance from life insurance, but property that was discussed is being taken by other family members.
Estate Planning Attorney
I'm sorry to hear you're having these issues. I would start by calling your loved one's attorney - many attorneys keep originals or copies of the will. If you don't know who your loved one's attorney is, you could call estate planning attorneys in your area, or ask your loved one's friends (if that is possible) if they know who her attorney is.
If the will was truly stolen, you find the new one and you can prove what happened, you should be able to get the property transfers undone, assuming that that property has not disappeared. The person who did it could possibly face civil and/or criminal penalties. If I were you, I would consult a probate attorney in your family member's area as soon as possible before anything else happens. Good luck!
I am sorry for your loss. Attorney White is correct. Many times, the attorney who prepares a will keeps the original in his or her law firm's fire-proof vault. Accordingly, although a copy may be destroyed, the original may still be in existence. If the search seems overwhelming, your best bet is to retain an attorney in your loved one's jurisdiction to provide assistance. Good luck to you.
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I agree with the other attorneys. You will also want to do everything possible to find the original will; ie the copy that the family member actually signed. This will be the only version that can be submitted to probate absent court approval - and even then, only if there are no objections from other family members.
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I agree with my colleagues. I would simply add that, in response to your comment that "property that was discussed is being taken by other family members," I assume you are talking about personal items and household effects. Titled assets would not be accessible to anyone other than the executor or administrator for the estate. It is not clear from your summary whether an estate is open or not. Until an estate is open, you may not be able to prevent this kind of "looting." I would meet with a probate attorney in the estate where decedent resided, in order to determine how best to proceed.
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