When a person makes a will before they die, they trust that someone will implement it according to their wishes. Unfortunately, these things are not as sacred as they were decades ago, if they were ever. Therefore, they would probably protect their interests best if they appointed two joint executors.
These should ideally be a solicitor to handle the legalities, and a close friend or family member to take care of the interpersonal issues that flow from their decisions.
What if a Beneficiary Steals From the Estate?
The probate systems prevailing in the UK all assume that beneficiaries patiently wait until these processes complete, and they can get their just deserts according to the will of the deceased. However, there is an unfortunate gap while executors wait for their grants of probate.
The first days following a death are often chaotic from an estate administration point of view. There is a scramble to obtain a death certificate so the funeral can proceed. There may be little preventing a trusted person going in ‘to tidy up after auntie or uncle’.
There may be nothing to prevent them pocketing a diamond pendant, or the legendary ‘fortune in banknotes’ tucked securely under the mattress. Therefore, surviving beneficiaries should always enter in pairs in case there are questions asked later.
I Should Like to Think Those ‘Grave Robbers’ Face Prosecution
We hope so too, although this is not always the case, unfortunately. This is what should happen if they were caught.
# If they were not named as a beneficiary under the estate then they are guilty of common theft, and the police should prosecute.
# If they were a beneficiary, then the other beneficiaries should sue them for diminishing the value of their joint inheritance
# If they were both beneficiary and executor, then they should face a fine, court costs and restitution of the stolen value to the estate.
Unfortunately somebody – inevitably an heir – has to trigger these lawsuits; many don’t, because they want to honour a memory by not appearing greedy.
Stealing from the Living May Be an Easier Way Out
A well-informed, yet dishonest friend or family member knows these risks. They take a different line to avoid prosecution by stealing from the estate while the person is still alive. This can be a ‘debt or honour’ during a contrived crisis they never intend to repay.
At a darker level – especially if the dying person has dementia – they may uplift the diamond pendant or banknotes under the mattress while they are still alive. When they have died there is no witness, and they walk away scot free.
For these reasons it’s often a good idea to register a conditional power of attorney to manage your assets if you become unable to do so yourself. At the very least, this should protect your property and investments.
However, that still leaves the diamond pendant and the legendary ‘fortune in banknotes’ tucked securely under the mattress. They really belong in a safe deposit box with the key in the bank manager’s safe. However, regular news reports suggest this is not always the case.