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Joshua, Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 26577
Experience:  LL.B (Hons), Higher Prof. Dip. Law & Practice
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My sister appropriated my deceased mothers' effects

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My sister appropriated my deceased mothers' effects including family papers and jewellery. This included a broach belonging to me but loaned to our mother. My sister is refusing me access to the documents and jewellery, and is not returning my broach despite two written requests to do so, and many verbal requests over the last 10 years.
Does she have any right to prevent my having the documents in my possession for a reasonable period, and does she have any right to withhold my broach?
I was under the impression to permanently deprive me of my properties theft.
Advice sought please.
Sheila Williams

Hello and thank you for your question. I will be very pleased to assist you. I'm a practising lawyer in England with over 10 years experience.

  1. May I ask if your mother left a will and if so whether she left any of the items to a particular person?
  2. Who was the executor of your mothers estate?
  3. I note the issue has been going on for more than 10 years - is that correct?
  4. Have you previously issued any kind of legal claim for the return of any property?
  5. Finally would I be correct to assume the remainder of your mothers estate has been distributed in accordance with her will or if there was no will, the law?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
There was no will, there was no executor
Elder brother Sean, and younger sister Moira were signatories on Mom's bank accounts. Kathryn (the sister holding the artefacts) used to collect Mom's pension cash weekly for the last 2-3 years of her life. Katheryn also accused me of stealing all Mom's money. I have never had access to her cash or bank accounts.
Mom died over 10 years ago, and I had left this in the hope she would respond to my requests
I have not made any legal approach for the artefacts
Furniture was split up among the family, she was in local authority housing. I was given a sum of around £200 from her estate after funeral expenses were paid, but have never had a breakdown of what was left, or what was spent. It was distributed by Sean and Kathryn, the sister who now has possession of the artefacts.
Other family members have asked for temporary possession and have met with the same negative response.

Many thanks for the above. There are two principal elements to this from what you say.

The first is your entitlement to your mothers estate. If your mother did not leave a will, then her property would be divided under the Administration of Estates Act which provides if she was not survived by a spouse (your father?) that her estate is equally divided between her real or adopted children (not step children).

On the basis you were entitled to an equal share of her estate under the above rules, then you are entitled to ask the persons that administered her estate for a complete breakdown of her estate in order to calculate your entitlement. If her estate went to probate you can request a copy of the grant of probate for a nominal sum from the probate registry which will give you the declared figures. If your mothers estate was not large enough to require a grant of probate you would need to rely upon the administrators to provide this information.

The difficulty you may have at this point is the length of time that has passed. The Limitation Act provides that you have 12 years to make a claim against your mothers estate so from what you say you are still within time and in a sense the problem is for your sister and brother rather than you because it is they rather than that would hevto produce such evidence if you requested it but there would inevitably be a potential degree of difficulty in them doing so if they have not kept records. You would need to consider retaining a solicitor to formally subpoena them to produce such evidence if they are not willing to provide you with what you ask for. Following a subpoena they can be compelled to appear before a judge at the Probate Registry to produce the evidence you require and if they don't a bench warrant can be issued for them to be brought before the judge to do so.

Your sister and brother will be personally liable as administrators to you for any monies which you should have received but did not. Whether or not you consider it is worth bringing such an action will depend upon your own views but also in particular your knowledge of the size of your mothers estate. Though in principle you can seek to receover legal costs you may incur in pursuing an action, these would be normally limited to the value of your mothers estate (in todays money now). So in practice this is likely to only be worth doing if your mothers estate was large enough to warrant the trouble or if you feel strongly enough that you want to hold your siblings to account and are prepared to potentially spend your own money to do so.

The position regarding your broach is different. As it belonged to you this does not fall as part of your mothers estate and therefore must be returned to you. The issue here may be proving you did lend it to your mother, particularly after so long, and also the fact that you have allowed your sister to keep the broach for so long without formally making a claim for its return. The Limitation Act provides you have a 6 year period from the date of cause of action (this would have been when she took it rom your mothers house) and based on what you say you may therefore be out of time to seek a return of this item. If you accepted that it belonged to your mothers estate then you potentially still have a claim for it as there is a longer 12 period available for claims for inheritances due though you would not necessarily be able to claim that exact item as you are entitled to an equal share rather than a precise item from your mothers estate.

I am sorry that the legal position is rather complicated but I hope the above answer all your questions? If it does, I should be very grateful if you would kindly take a moment to click a rating for my service to you today. Your feedback is important to me. If there is anything else I can help with please reply back to me though

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Well it does look as though I am time-barred from using the "normal" legal channels, but I would ask again if there is a consideration of theft by attempting to permanently deprive me of my property? If so, should I approach the police to deal with this, or would I be able to bring a claim through the County Court?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Also, what would be the cost of a solicitors letter demanding return of my property?
I would estimate a solicitor would likely quote between £80 - 150 +vat to draft one depending on the seniority of the lawyer and the firm concerned. I would question the value of such a letter unless your sister is easily worried by things as there is not a great deal of "stick" a solicitor can quote and use in his letter without stretching the legal position quite a bit but if you think your sister may be sufficiently worried by such correspondence it could be worthwhile.
Is there anything else I can help you with?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Final question: Is it possible the police would respond to a question of theft?
In principle you have the ingredients to claim theft - that your sister is aware that the broach is yours, she has taken it without lawful excuse with the intent to permanently deprive you of it - the definition of theft under S1 Theft Act.However the above has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt for a conviction and your sister has the obvious defence that she does not accept that the brochure is yours and has retained it either as a beneficiary or administrator of your mothera eatate. It would likely be difficult at best to prove otherwise I regret.There is nothing stopping you making a complaint to the police. However my feeling is that they would tell you either in refusing to investigate or following an investigation it is a family (civil) matter and they cannot help.I am sorry not to be able to give a better opinion but I hope the above gives you some potential options or at least clarifies your rights. Do come back to me if I can clarify or expand on anything further. Have I been able to answer all your questions?
Joshua and other Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Sadly not the answers I sought, but yes, you have provided clarity and I thank you for it.