By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho
It is not official. But there really is such a thing as a “Twenty-Four Hour Steal Rule” after someone dies. What does that really mean?
When a single person dies, it is not uncommon for family members or neighbors to come to the home and start hauling out “stuff” immediately after a death. It does not matter that it is illegal, it happens anyway. Even if someone is entitled to the items, taking them without going through the official channels is still stealing.
What is the solution?
If you are the person legally responsible for handling the estate of the decedent, for a start:
- Change the locks immediately to the house and any outbuildings and seal the garage door so it can’t be opened.
- Have a trusted individual stay in the home.
- Let the police know the house is vacant.
- Contact a trusted neighbor and ask them to watch the home.
- Take all vehicle keys or disable the vehicles so they can’t be moved.
- Take pictures of the contents of the house, any outbuildings and vehicles and have an intendent person accompany you while the pictures are taken.
If items are inappropriately removed from the home, the next steps are:
- ask for the return of the items immediately.
- if they are not returned or the individual you believe took the items denies doing so, file a complaint with the local police.
- file a claim with the house insurance company, after filing the complaint with the police, and ask the insurance company to reimburse the estate for the cost of the stolen items.
It is always disappointing when people steal from someone who just died, but it happens. Unfortunately, they usually get away with the theft. Most families are not willing to file a criminal complaint with law enforcement and if that does not happen the insurance company will not pay.
Just be aware, if you are the person legally responsible for handling the estate, you have a legal obligation to protect the assets of the estate even though you are not officially appointed to the job the day the person dies.
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