If my brother illegally sold my mothers investment stocks, is there a way to trace the transactions?

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If my brother illegally sold my mothers investment stocks, is there a way to trace the transactions?

My mother passed away a few weeks ago. The will is about to go through probate. As the 3 surviving children have gone through the will and division of property, my oldest brother is claiming that there were no stocks left, or that he could find. My mother herself showed me these stocks a few years ago when I was last visiting her. Hundreds of shares of ATT stock. I strongly feel that my brother is lying to me, or withholding the stocks to keep them for himself. When questioned about the stocks he has become reticent. Is there a way to research the purchase and or sell of my mothers stocks?

Asked on July 18, 2019 under Estate Planning, West Virginia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

The executor (assuming it is not your brother) could bring a lawsuit against your brother based on the reasonable suspicion he may have taken, sold, etc. your mother's stocks. The executor would bring this suit on behalf of the "estate" (what your mother left behind) to recover assets which should have been there but where improperly taken from the estate or from your mother pre-death (the estate can bring lawsuits to protect the deceased's rights).
If your brother is the executor, then you, as a beneficiary, would bring a kind of lawsuit traditionally called an action "for an accounting" to make your brother "account for" his actions as executor. If it is determined that he is not following the instructions of the will, is taking things not left to him by the will, or is "self-dealing" (engaging in transactions or behavior to benefit himself at the other beneficiaries' expense), the court can order him to repay improperly taken amounts, to do or not do certain things, or can remove/replace him as executor.
In either case discussed above, during the lawsuit, you (or the executor suing on behalf of the estate) can use legal mechanisms called "discovery" (e.g. written questions or "interrogatories," document production requests, subpoenas) to get information from your brother or from other people (e.g. accountants) or businesses (e.g. banks, brokerages). 
The problem though is that since you can only use discovery in a lawsuit, you must file the lawsuit first, before knowing whether or not it is justified.


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