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My uncle entered my late father’s house, took his house keys, identification, and even his truck. He refuses to return them

My father passed away on November 12, leaving no will, in Indiana. He has three children. He moved near his hometown in Indiana from Louisiana about 4 years ago. One of my siblings was there during his illness and signed a non-resuscitation note.

My dad has a small life insurance policy, 401(k), a small pension, for less than $100,000 in total. My siblings and I don’t know who the beneficiaries of these are. We suspect that he may have let my uncle – his only brother – be the beneficiary.

I was told by my uncle that his ex-wife would receive his meager pension because she was his last wife before his death, and that is the law in Louisiana.

Dad has a home in Indiana that he recently refinanced for about $50,000 less than it’s worth, and has a truck that’s worth $10,000 more than he owes. He has various personal possessions, none of which are very valuable: clothes, household items, photos, etc.

My siblings and I both live in Louisiana. Due to the storm damaging our home, we alone have the means to get around right now. Overall, we agreed that one of us would go to Indiana and remove mementos, photos, etc.

“He owns my father’s wallet, personal papers and keys to his house.”

That’s where things get sticky.

My uncle had access to my dad’s checks and savings while he was dying to buy a cemetery plot. (My siblings and I can remotely handle a lot of our relatives’ paperwork.)

My uncle took my dad’s truck out of the house and drove it home. He called all the creditors and account holders and announced the death. He did all this without a death certificate.

He owns my father’s wallet, personal papers, and keys to my father’s house. He refused to pass on any of these items to us, even though not to their relatives.

He insisted that me and my siblings not touch anything in the house until all were corroborated. We don’t ask him to do anything. He said he has an appointment in December to see a lawyer. Why?

He insisted we needed an enforcer. One of my siblings agreed to work it out. And even if we all agreed to let my uncle be an executor, he still hasn’t been appointed.

Honestly, I don’t think my uncle had any business accessing the funds while my dad was on DNR and was too sick to know what was going on.

He went over to the house several times, opened the safe, and threw away the medicine. Who knows what else? I know he may have our best interests at heart and may have a need to be involved.

Can he keep us out of the house? Are we allowed to donate household items, clothes and remove mementos? No one is trying to reverse the decisions of potential beneficiaries or steal from siblings.

Do we need an endorsement for the house? It’s starting to make us feel very stressed in a time when you want to video chat, heal, and find peace.

Caught between you and the storm

Dear,

Losing a loved one is a difficult time, even without such mischief from your uncle.

Be generous assuming that your uncle wants to protect your father’s estate, and make sure that everything is on the board and distributed fairly. He rightly said that your father’s estate must be through probate, so his entire estate is accounted for and distributed to the heirs. He was definitely not right in the way he went about it. This needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

Your uncle has likely broken into your father’s house, and has no legal right to remove his possessions or papers. An attorney should ask for those items to be returned so they can deal with your father’s estate. If your father died without leaving a will, his estate should be divided among the children. His insurance, 401(k) and pension will be distributed to the named beneficiaries.

All other assets are subject to probate. Probate is only avoided if your father has a living trust. That is not the case here. Hire an estate attorney and designate your father’s estate administrator (or “executor”, if there is a will and last will). Your family should not move mementos from their home until their property has been disposed of.

Estate attorneys have a multitude of functions, some of which mentioned here of RMO Probate Litigation: “Gathering money from life insurance policies, helping with bills and debts, resolving income tax issues, assessing people’s real estate dying [and] transfer property in the decedent’s name to the appropriate beneficiaries”.

Wishing you both a speedy and satisfactory settlement of your father’s estate.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions regarding the coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Payment procedures Moneyist’s personal Facebook group, where we seek answers to life’s toughest money problems. Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, let me know what you’d like to know more about or consider on the latest Moneyist columns.

Moneyist regrets that he is unable to answer individual questions.

More movies by Quentin Fottrell:

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My mother asked my grandfather to sign a trust leaving millions of dollars for two nieces, alienating others.
My brother’s ex-fiancée is embezzling money from their business. How do we find hidden accounts?
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https://www.marketwatch.com/story/my-uncle-swooped-into-my-late-fathers-house-took-his-house-keys-personal-papers-and-even-his-truck-he-refuses-to-return-them-11638317302?rss=1&siteid=rss My uncle entered my late father’s house, took his house keys, identification, and even his truck. He refuses to return them

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