How do I stop a sibling from disposing of property before the estate has gone to probate?
January 16, 2008 6:20 AM   Subscribe

I need probate law advice. My sibling is acting unilaterally to dispose of personal property and accessing our father's bank account before the estate has gone to probate. How can I stop this?


I'm in a kind of time-sensitive situation where my sister is disposing of personal property from our father's estate before it's gone to probate.

Isn't this stuff supposed to be left untouched until the Special Representative disposes of it? She also has access to his bank account. It may or may not have been a joint account (it's unclear because she had power of attorney), and she has transferred funds from it to her own account since his death and used them for personal things (primarily lodging costs). When she specifically inquired about this account and this situation, the bank told her that she couldn't write checks on the account or anything and that they must wait thirty days after receiving the death certificate before they will release the funds. She did not tell them that she had already transferred funds from the account.

I don't object to these things per se, but I do object to her unilateral actions and that they are not being handled in the proper manner. She had anticipated our agreeing to her being the SR, but in light of these bad decisions, as well as the provocation of her retaining an attorney without my prior knowledge, I no longer intend to agree to this.

So I'd like to know what I should do, and possibly retain an attorney myself...assuming I can do so without a fee upfront. Is this possible? Can anyone tell me what my immediate options are?
posted by pussyfoot to Law & Government (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
i can't give you legal advice, but i can tell you from experience, if she is already abusing this situation, it will get worse. is there a will? You might begin by telling her you understand she needed some funds but she really needs to document what she has done already and talk to you about what she will do in the future. your father may have had specific instructions on how much she inherited - she may have already spent her inheritance.

technically i believe the executor of the estate is required to report what is distributed.

this is a situtation that can really be hard on relationships, even in the best of circumstances.
posted by domino at 6:28 AM on January 16, 2008

IANAL but it sounds like you need to get a lawyer ASAP.
posted by 6550 at 6:43 AM on January 16, 2008

You're throwing around terminology, like "Special Representative," that varies from state to state. You know what else varies enormously from state to state? Probate procedure. It sounds quite possible that what your sister is doing isn't kosher, but what you should do to respond is very different, depending on what state this is taking place in. Get to an in-state probate lawyer.
posted by grimmelm at 6:46 AM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Run away from the computer and into the arms of your nearest lawyer.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:36 AM on January 16, 2008

Do everything *except* hold true to your nickname. Seriously.

Alternatively, pussyfoot around and let things take their natural disaster course.

Time spent reading this thread is wasted lawyer time.

I feel for you and your situation, but no one here is likely to be able to help anymore than saying the same thing... unless they are a lawyer and work for free, of course.
posted by DrtyBlvd at 8:40 AM on January 16, 2008

Did you call your sister on this? The death of parents unfortunately often brings out the worst in people, and the resulting sibling war of pettiness and jealousy and scheming is NOT pretty. If you can nip it in the bud now, this whole process will be a lot less painful.

(For all of the legal stuff, you gotta talk to the lawyers -- it varies too much by location and situation for anyone here to help you much.)
posted by desuetude at 8:45 AM on January 16, 2008

FWIW, if her name is on the checking account as a joint owner, the money there might simply be hers without needing to go through probate. That wouldn't excuse the other issue though. Specifics are important. Go talk to a lawyer.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 8:52 AM on January 16, 2008

Nthing get a lawyer, and do what the lawyer says.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:57 AM on January 16, 2008

I'm going to suggest a slightly different course, if it turns out to be appropriate to you -- is this money really important to you? Did your father have specific things he'd want the money to go to? Do you have a good relationship with your sister? Does she need the money badly? Do you not need the money?

Look -- your dad just died. Both you and she are going through the mourning process. Often, when a family member dies, the ensuing fight over money and property between the surviving family members is A) horribly destructive and B) not at all about the money, but about the negative feelings between the family members. If you can bare to keep things from becoming adversarial, then you should. I'd advise AGAINST getting a lawyer if you can. There are three things that are important here -- your dealing with the loss of your father, her dealing with the loss of her father, and the money. The money is SO FAR DOWN the list of importance, it ain't even funny.

Don't let the money get in the way of family and the death of your dad. If you can, let it go. It's probably not important. I'm completely aware this isn't the ONLY way to deal with the situation, but it's the course I'd probably take. Alternatively, talk to your sister directly and kindly and discuss what's going on with your father's estate. Only as a very very last resort would I get a lawyer.
posted by incessant at 9:16 AM on January 16, 2008

I think you're going to be hard-pressed to retain an attorney without some kind of fee upfront. It's not a bad idea to have one on hand for the probate itself. But before you take an adversarial stance with your sister on any kind of legal footing, talk to her nicely and ask her to stop. Maybe you've done that already or maybe you don't have that kind of relationship, and then getting a lawyer right away is the thing to do.

If not, though, talk to her first (gently!) and see if you can get her to just hold up until you and she can visit an attorney and find out how things are supposed to be done in your state. That'd probably be the quickest way to handle things. If that doesn't work, go see an attorney right away. It's unlikely that any legal options you could pursue would be something you could do effectively, under time pressure, without an attorney.

Only as a very very last resort would I get a lawyer.

I'm not sure if incessant meant this quite the way it sounds. You (individually or both you and your sister together) can get a lawyer without being adversarial. It seems pretty clear that neither you nor your sister have a firm grasp on what exactly you should or shouldn't be doing, and there are more potential trouble spots waiting for you if it continues. Get somebody to tell you what's what, whether that be information from the probate court or any attorney.
posted by averyoldworld at 9:22 AM on January 16, 2008

Yes, averyoldworld, thank you for clarifying what I meant. Both the asker and the sister would benefit greatly from seeing a lawyer together.
posted by incessant at 9:45 AM on January 16, 2008

i need probate law advice...

take another look at your first sentence. which do you think is more reliable, an experienced probate lawyer in your jurisdiction, or the askme oracles? i practiced law for 15 years and i'm not even qualified to advise you specifically.
posted by bruce at 11:54 AM on January 16, 2008

First off, I'm sorry for your loss and the familial drama going on in your life right now.

Others have said nearly everything I would say. But to follow-up on the suggestion for a lawyer, I would suggest that you should go into the lawyer with a better understanding of the issues at hand. I have always been happy with NoLo Press's law books. The specific one for this situation would be The Executor's Guide: Settling a Loved One's Estate or Trust. It should help you make better use of the lawyer's expensive time.

Good luck.
posted by fief at 12:31 PM on January 16, 2008

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