When Jewelry has Legs...The All-Too-Common Case of Missing Estate Assets!

As an estate lawyer, I often see cases where a person dies and leaves certain items of jewelry to a specific beneficiary. However, when time comes to distribute that gift, all-too-often the jewelry has gone missing. 

So what happened, did the jewelry grow legs and walk away? The obvious answer is that someone, a family member, a caretaker, a neighbor, etc. removed it. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in estate administration. Part of the reason for this is that when a person dies, there is often a delay from the date of death until the person in charge, the Personal Representative/Executor or the Trustee, can take control. During that interim, items often mysteriously disappear.

What can be done to avoid this from occurring or to rectify if it does occur? First, to the extent valuables like jewelry can be kept in a locked location, that is helpful. Secondly, the items should be documented, photographed, etc. so they can be identified. If this is done, the Personal Representative/Executor or the Trustee may be able call law enforcement or have a probate court order them returned.

Another alternative elected by some clients is that if they wish for a particular item to be received by someone, they give it to the person while they're still alive. This type of life-time gift can mean that the item reaches its intended recipient.


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