Legal Blog

The Weekly Scenario: Family Disputes About Belongings Left in a Will

Question: My husband passed away and his kids (from a previous marriage) consider many of his belongings, including his clothing, collections and personal autographs, to be theirs. These items have no title document evidencing ownership but I know he would have wanted me to have these items. In fact, these items are left to me in his Will. I’m willing to be reasonable, but I’m afraid the (adult) children will simply take these items out of the house (one of them has a key to the house). What should I do? Answer: I have seen multiple situations in which children from prior marriages hold keys to their deceased parent’s residence and have gone into the house without talking to the surviving spouse. I have heard many statements such as “I know mom/dad wanted me to have all of her jewelry and art,” or some similar justification. These takings can constitute criminal theft, but in any case, it can create ill will with any surviving spouse who wanted time to grieve and handle the estate affairs. Unfortunately, that ill will can ruin the rest of the dealings between the surviving spouse and the deceased spouse’s heirs. You may want to consider changing the locks on the residence or other locations holding personal property so that you have control over the premises. If there is a security system in place, notify the company and change the codes. If you are the Personal Representative, you have the authority to handle your husband’s estate affairs. The kids must let you do your job and any grievances on their part can be handled through the court.


Steve Shane Head Shot for webSteve Shane provides strategic counseling to clients in need of estate administration, charitable giving and business continuity planning while minimizing estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax exposure. He offers legal guidance to clients on asset protection and the proper disposition of assets in accordance with the client’s objectives, while employing tax planning techniques such as the use of irrevocable trusts, life insurance planning, lifetime gifts and charitable trust. He is also experienced with drafting documents for business planning, the incorporation and application for exemption for Private Foundations and the administration of decedents’ estates. You can also connect with Offit Kurman via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn. WASHINGTON | BALTIMORE | FREDERICK | PHILADELPHIA | WILMINGTON | VIRGINIA | NEW YORK