Can someone remove items from an estate premise if the deceased left no Will and probate has not closed?

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Can someone remove items from an estate premise if the deceased left no Will and probate has not closed?

My brother passed away 11 days ago unexpectedly. He was living in his house with a girlfriend for the past several years.

My nephew, his adult son, who does not live at the house hasn’t given his girlfriend notice that theshe must get out now. He has also posted a notice on Facebook less than 24 hours ago, that anybody who has any property at his dad’s house or who apwants anything from the house should have it removed within the next 2 days or it will be put in a dumpster or hauled away. My brother has many things in his house that go back 3 generations in our family, and the rest of us are still trying to process emotionally that he is gone. We are not ready to go through things within the next 2 days. My parents are in their 80’s. This is too much too soon.

Can my nephew legally start going through my brother’s possessions without probate having been finalized?

Asked on March 7, 2016 under Estate Planning, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

If the house was your brother's (he was sole or joint owner) the nephew has no right at all to do this--the assets in the house will be disposed of during probating of the estate, by the lawful estate representative(s) (e.g. the executor). 
If the house belonged solely to the girlfriend, then the nephew can only do this if she, as the owner, gives him authority--and even then, he'd have to give people a reasonable time (certainly more than 2 days) to retrieve belongings.
If the nephew acts improperly as per the above--that is, throws out things when he should not--he can be held personally liable for their value (i.e. he can be sued).


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