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You can spend thousands of dollars on an estate plan that fails to account for the fact that some unhappy person — possibly an emotional wreck — is going to have to execute it someday. It is like spending top dollar on a supercar but the driver doesn’t how to drive a manual shift and, worse, no one knows where it is parked. Your estate plan isn’t done until you are confident that your administrator can find and follow it.

Often family members don’t understand the law and think they are entitled to just come in and grab what they want when a family member dies. I don’t do probate law and I don’t know where you live, but I skimmed through a dozen or so answers that didn’t seem very helpful, and there are some general principles that apply.

Most importantly, the estate survives the decedent and owns all of the property that belonged to her. Anything removed from the control of the estate without permission is stolen property. It’s important to get an administrator for the estate as soon as possible after someone dies to secure all of the property so that it can be inventoried.

Assuming that your mother died without a will, someone with standing would have to go into court and initiate probate proceedings to have someone appointed to administer the estate. As the son or daughter, you would probably have standing to do this. You would need a lawyer.

Once someone is appointed administrator, that person would be responsible for securing the estate’s assets. That includes contacting all of the relatives who took things and requesting that they return them, or suing or reporting them to the police if they don’t. The administrator may also be able to sue the landlord for any items that could not be recovered or for the expense the administrator incurred retrieving all of the property that was stolen from the estate.

The administrator has a legal duty to protect the estate assets and insure that they are distributed according to the will or the law. That means the administrator needs to be someone who is tough and fair and will not be squeamish about using any legal means necessary to return the property.

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