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Hi, this is Stewart Albertson with Albertson & Davidson and I want to talk to you about how we find assets in a trust or will contest case. And this is a problem. This is something that we have a hard time explaining to clients, at times, because the clients come to us and they say I know Mom and Dad had gold bars, silver bars, cash in a safe. I know that there’s some personal property items that are out there that Mom had and my brother’s taken them and sold them to a pawn shop. How do we prove that? How do we get the assets back?
And there’s some good news and bad news here. But, the good news is, if an asset has a title to it, such as a bank account, that has a title. A car has a title. A house generally has a title. Retirement accounts have titles. These are generally larger assets in a person’s estate. We can generally find those assets out there by serving subpoenas on parties that have those documents so that we can look at them and determine what the value of those assets were on the date of death, maybe even prior to the date of death, and then, of course, what they’re worth today. And we can ask whoever was in control of those assets after someone passed away, what have they done with those assets? Have they spent them on themselves? Or have they saved them for the rightful beneficiaries of the trust or the will?
So that is one way that we find assets in these cases. Sometimes I feel like clients look at us and say, you’re the lawyer, you’re the expert. Can’t you just go out there and find these assets? Aren’t these assets just available for you as a specialist in this arena, to go and find. And what I tell clients is, I wish that were the case. I wish I had a magic wand that I could waive and I could find all of the assets that had disappeared or gone missing that once belonged to your Mom or your Dad prior to their passing.
There’s going to be some assets that you’re just not going to be able to find in these cases. Rarely will you find someone whose stolen assets. Rarely will you have them come to a deposition and they admit that they’ve stole assets. Even if they get to the point where they say yes, there were some cash in a safe of $200,000. They’re going to tell you that Mom or Dad gifted that cash to them. And then that will be the new argument, whether it was a gift, whether it was a loan, whether they took it without permission. That will be an issue to decide at the time of trial. But, in most cases, if $200,000 cash is missing, changes are finding it are not going to be great in these cases. I wish that was not the state of affairs for trust and will cases in California, but, ultimately, if we have titled assets, we can find them. If we have untitled assets, it can be a problem and the sooner people understand that, come to grips with that, it’s much easier for us to move forward in the case.