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.
In most situations, we have been able to recover monies and assets stolen from an estate or trust swiftly using the following litigation tools:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
RMO LLP serves clients in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Orange County, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, and communities throughout California, Florida, Missouri and Kansas. Our founder, Scott E. Rahn has been named “Top 100 – Trust and Estate Litigation” by SuperLawyers, Trusts and Estates Litigator of the Year, and Best Lawyers in America for Litigation – Trusts and Estates. For a free consultation, call (424) 320-9444 or visit: https://rmolawyers.com