My uncle swooped into my late father’s home, took his home keys, private papers and even his truck. He refuses to return them


My father died on November 12th without a will in Indiana. He has three children. He moved from Louisiana to near his hometown of Indiana about four years ago. One of my siblings was there during his illness and signed a non-resuscitation.

My father has a small life insurance policy, a 401 (k), a small pension that is less than $ 100,000 in total. My siblings and I do not know who is the beneficiary of any of these things. We suspect that he made my uncle – his only sibling – a beneficiary.

I was told (by my uncle) that his ex-wife would get his small pension because she was the last woman before he died and that is the law in Louisiana.

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

My siblings and I all live in Louisiana. Due to hurricane damage to our homes, only one of us is currently able to travel. We have generally agreed that one of us will travel to Indiana and collect the memorabilia, photos, etc.

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

It gets sticky there.

My uncle was accessing my father’s checks and savings while desperate to buy a niche in a cemetery. (My siblings and I were able to do much of the paperwork for loved ones remotely.)

My uncle took my father’s truck out of his house and drove it to his own house. He called all creditors and account holders and reported the death. He did all of this without a death certificate.

He has my father’s wallet, personal papers, and keys to his house. He refuses to give us these items even though he is not the next of kin.

He insists that my siblings and I mustn’t touch anything in the house until everything is sorted out. We didn’t ask him to do anything. He says he has an appointment with a lawyer in December. Why?

He insists we need an executor. One of my siblings agreed to this. And even if we have all agreed to have my uncle act as executor, he has not yet been appointed.

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

He has already walked through the house several times, opened the safe and disposed of medicines. Who knows what else? I know that our well-being is important to him and that he may need to be included.

Can he keep us out of the house? Can we donate household items, clothing and mementos? Nobody tries to reverse the decisions of potential beneficiaries or steal from the siblings.

Do we need an estate for the house? We begin to feel very stressed at a time when the siblings wanted to video chat and heal and find peace.

Caught between the uncle and a hurricane

Dear prisoner,

Bereavement is a difficult time, even without such gimmicks from your uncle.

Let’s generously assume that your uncle wants to protect your father’s assets and make sure everything is in order and distributed evenly. He is right that your father’s estate must be replaced by an estate so that all of his assets are accounted for and distributed to his heirs. He is certainly wrong in his approach. This should be fixed as soon as possible.

Your uncle likely entered your father’s house and had no right to remove his belongings or papers. A lawyer should request the return of these items so he / she can settle your father’s estate. If your father died without a will, his property should be divided among his children. His insurance, 401 (k) and his pension will be distributed to the named beneficiaries.

All other assets should undergo probate auditing. Estate will only be avoided if your father had a living trust. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. Hire an estate attorney and appoint an administrator of your father’s estate (or “administrator” if there was a will). Your family should not remove any memorabilia from the home until their estate is settled.

The probate attorney has a myriad of roles, some of which are described here by RMO Probate Litigation: “Collecting proceeds from life insurance policies, assisting with paying bills and debts, resolving income tax issues, obtaining appraisals on the testator’s property [and] Transfer of assets on behalf of the testator to the appropriate beneficiaries. “

I wish you both a quick and satisfactory solution to your father’s estate.

You can email The Moneyist at with any financial and ethical issues related to the coronavirus and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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