The Penalty for Stealing from an Estate

What is the penalty for stealing from an estate?

When an abuser steals from an estate, the penalty can be as little as simply returning the stolen monies or assets to the trust or estate. However, the California Probate Code does provide statutory bases for pursuing double damages, treble damages, punitive damages, disinheritance of the abuser, attorney’s fees and/or costs in egregious cases. The availability and likelihood of these remedies and recoveries is very fact determinative and should be discussed with a probate or estate litigation attorney as early as soon as you suspect wrongdoing.


How do I get the money and assets returned?

In most situations, we have been able to recover monies and assets stolen from an estate or trust swiftly using the following litigation tools:

  • Early thorough due diligence of our client’s case, including informal discovery and witness development;
  • Preparation of a formal complaint or petition filed with the probate court;
  • Early discussion with opposing parties or their counsel about informal or formal resolution;
  • Early discovery of additional documents and information to fill in the gaps discovered during the due diligence process and/or pointed out by our opposition;
  • Utilizing formal court resolution processes, and, if unsuccessful;
  • Being prepared to set the case for trial as soon as possible.

Civil Court vs Criminal Court

Stealing from an estate or trust is a civil matter, which means that the authorities most likely are not going to do anything other than make a police report about the theft. It is highly unlikely, unless the theft is such monumental and institutional nature, that a district attorney will have the time or resources to make an individual case a priority for prosecution. What that means is that the wrongs committed against the estate or trust must be addressed in a civil court process, here probate court, where the damages available may include those highlighted above, but nobody is going to go to jail.

When is stealing from an estate a criminal charge?

Stealing from an estate rarely escalates to criminal charges, in our experience. And it won’t become a matter for the criminal courts, unless a criminal charge is filed with the authorities. This requires a victim to go through the process of filing the charge, meaning there must be a clear desire of the victim to proceed to criminal charges. Typically, family members don’t want to charge other family members or trusted family friends with criminal charges, and the risk of jail time.

How do I prove if someone is stealing from an estate?

If you feel a Trustee, a caregiver, friend, family member, or somebody else is stealing from an estate or trust, you need to contact an estate attorney who litigates immediately. There are time limits to when a case can be brought, and if you sleep on your claims they will be lost. A trust litigation attorney can help you understand your claims and advise you as to when you need to file them so they are not lost.

When do I contact an estate attorney?

Contact an estate attorney the moment you begin to suspect funds or assets are being stolen from an estate. In most cases, the initial consultation will be free.

How much does an estate litigation attorney cost?

Although an unpopular answer, the correct one is that “it depends.” The relative complexity of your case, the number of parties and claims involved, the passage of time, assets involved, etc. all mean that the case is likely to cost more. The relative resistance anticipated from the party to be sued also means higher costs. Fortunately, a good trust litigation attorney will be able to help you understand the value of your case and should be able to help you structure a financial arrangement that makes sense for you and the law firm. Don’t let your fear that you “can’t afford it” stop you from pursuing a claim. There are many ways to structure an engagement. Just ask.

Do I need an estate litigation attorney near me?

We recommend finding an experienced estate litigation attorney familiar with the county probate court in the county where the trust is located. For example, if the victim lives in San Diego, yet the trust is based in Los Angeles, we recommend working with a trust lawyer in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles trust lawyer will generally be more familiar with the Los Angeles Superior Court Probate Division, versus an out of state attorney.


The Guide to Los Angeles Superior Court Probate Notes
What does a probate litigation attorney do?
The Guide to Family Trust Embezzlement and Stealing
The Power of Attorney California Guide
6 reasons I’d choose a probate attorney near me

About RMO Lawyers, LLP

RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit

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About the Author

Scott Rahn, Founding Partner

Scott Rahn resolves contests, disputes and litigation related to trusts, estates and conservatorships, creating a welcome peace of mind for clients. He represents heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and executors. He utilizes his experience to develop and implement strategies that swiftly and efficiently address the financial issues, fiduciary duties and emotional complexities underlying trust contests, estates conflicts and probate litigation.

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