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What Can I Do if Someone Has Taken Something that Rightfully Belongs to An Estate?

It depends on the circumstances. If the estate has not been opened, then you or someone else with priority for an appointment can open the estate and become its executor (if nominated as executor in the will) or administrator (if not nominated in the will). Once appointed, you can seek relief under California Probate Code Section 850. Basically, the estate sues the person who took property properly belonging to the estate.

If the estate is pending, you should inform the personal representative of the situation. If he or she will not take action, there are various ways of compelling it. If the wrongdoer is also the personal representative or seeking to be appointed as such, you can file your objections to the appointment or to the final account. You can also seek to compel an accounting as well as take other action.

If the wrongdoer has been appointed as executor, administrator, guardian, conservator or any other fiduciary office that requires a bond, you can decide to pursue the action against the bonding company. The purpose of such bonds is to protect the people interested in the estate from damage from the wrongful acts of fiduciaries. So, even if the person has fled, has no money, etc. the bonding company is required to make good on the bonded person’s wrong.

Time is of the essence. Your action might be defeated if the statute of limitations runs, the fiduciary has been discharged or the action otherwise becomes time-barred.

The legal opinions here are general and may not apply to specific situations. If you have a specific legal problem, contact an attorney.

Robert L. Plunkett, Esq.