What can I do if my husband died last year without a Will and my mother-in-law has taken items that she is not entitled to?

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What can I do if my husband died last year without a Will and my mother-in-law has taken items that she is not entitled to?

While I was out of the country visiting my family, I gave permission to my mother in law to stay a while at my house. However, when I returned I had found she took my personal belongings and some property of my deceased husband’s (approaching $10k) and kept my house keys. I have asked many times for some of these things back and she always says she will. but in almost a year she never has. It looks like I will have to take legal action (or at least threaten to). Can you give me some advice? By the way, she lives in another state.

Asked on January 24, 2015 under Estate Planning, Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

The only way to recover those items is by suing your mother-in-law. If the estate has not been settled, the estate, by its court-appointed administrator, would sue her; if it has been settled, the person who would have inherited those items under the laws of intestate succession (i.e. you) would sue as the beneficiary. Your mother in law had no legal right to take these things, based on what you write; what she did is a form of theft, and that's the basis you'd sue her on. Bear in mind that suing someone in another state can be relatively costly and difficult; as a practical matter, you would need an attorney to have a realistic chance of winning, given the procedural complexities. It is not clear that economically, it's necessarily worth it for $10k of items (since you could easily spend several thousand dollars on the suit), though it may be worth it for personal reasons.


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