Question: I am the Executor of my mom’s estate and there is only $10,000 left in her bank account. A year before she died, my mom had much more money. I think someone may have taken her money before she died. What should I do?
Answer: If you suspect that somebody has wrongfully taken money or property from your mom before she died, you can commence proceedings in the Surrogate’s Court asking the Court to allow you to investigate who took the money. After the investigation, if you find out that the money was wrongfully taken from your mom, you can also bring a proceeding asking the Court to Order the money be returned to your mom’s estate.
The first step in this process is called a discovery proceeding and this proceeding may be commenced by you as the Executor. The purpose of this type of proceeding is to determine who took the money and is the investigatory stage of the proceeding. In a discovery proceeding, the Court usually grants you permission to take the deposition of any individual who may have information relating to the money taken from your mom during her lifetime. You do not need to have concrete proof that the individual has taken the money; you just need to demonstrate to the Court that the individual may have information regarding the stolen assets.
After you complete your investigation, and if you still believe that assets were wrongfully taken from your mom, you can convert the discovery proceeding into a turnover proceeding. The turnover proceeding is akin to suing someone asking for the return of the money they may have taken. In the turnover proceeding petition, you will show the evidence you obtained during the discovery proceeding that someone wrongfully took your mother’s the assets. Once proven, the Court can direct the person who stole the assets to give the assets back to the Estate.
Since these proceedings have specific procedural requirements and several steps with the Court, it is best to seek the advice of an experienced estate administration attorney if you are confronted with these issues.
– Nancy Burner, Esq. & Roseanne Beovich, Esq.