House of Thieves

Q: Several days following my mother’s death, I discovered my older sister and brothers had days earlier scavenged the home for everything they could privately steal without the knowledge of others. I arrived at a House Of Thieves. The only things remaining were a couple of chairs and my Mom’s dog, Smutny. My mother’s home was pillaged and purged of all her belongings including jewelry, toys we had as children, clothes, furniture, family keepsakes; just everything. All Gone! I had heard of inheritance theft stories about other families following the death of loved ones before, never imagining that my own siblings were anything but honest, loving and trustworthy. Imagine it, all of us now in our 40’s and 50’s. I still cannot look my sister and brothers in the eye without questioning which one of them, or all of them, are the family thieves. When we gather at family functions, I can still feel the sense of an untrustworthy doubt each holds for the other. How can family members, who are entitled to an equal share of a family’s inheritance, protect themselves from sibling greed and thievery following the death of their most beloved parents?

A: Unfortunately, attorneys, to a certain degree, experience sibling rivalry, fraud, feuding, dissension and thievery in most inheritance cases when there is more than one beneficiary. It’s called Greed. Does greed mean that the absconders of family inheritances are necessarily evil and don’t wish to maintain close relationships? No. More often than not, it is an entitlement factor. Brothers and sisters alike may see one another as more successful, wealthy or happier and believe that if they can abscond with most any family heirlooms, it will elevate them to the perceived prominence of their siblings. Although, to some beneficiaries, so long as they are first to the Antique Roadshow with mom’s valuables or collectibles, it is worth more than any closeness or love once felt prior to their parent’s death.

Siblings can get their share of assets back. If monetary or cherished keepsake values are greater than the emotional bond of sisters and brothers, hiring a trust and estate attorney may be the most resourceful approach. It’s natural to become angry, sad or frustrated when siblings violate another’s trust, but remember that inheritance is a civil, not a criminal, action and estate attorneys experienced in inheritance distribution often help resolve quarreling and mitigation of siblings clinging to tempers before and after inheritance disputes.  

If your parents’ or other relative’s belongings and earnings during their life are what is important to you, then encourage them to consult with an estate planning attorney and establish a last will or revocable trust that distributes their estate equitably to beneficiaries. Parents’ obligation to their children is to provide them with the tools for individual success and sibling love for one another, something far greater than all of the antiquities you imagined inheriting from the Family Roadshow acquired by parents, not you, the adult children who can cultivate their own prosperity.

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Written by Kristen Jackson

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