Does My Sister Have the Legal Right to Remove and Sell Items from the Home of My Deceased Parents?

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“House with contents left to 4 siblings. One sibling emailed everyone that she was removing items to sell. Other 3 siblings did not give their permission for her to remove items or to sell. She is not the personal representative and the estate has been closed for awhile. Does she have a legal right to do this? Is she breaking the law? And if so, can she be arrested?”

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

The strict answer to your question depends on the specifics of the situation. You indicated that the estate has been closed, by which I take you to mean that there was a probate or trust administration which was completed.

Completion, for purposes of a probate or trust administration, means that title to property has been transferred to the new owner or owners. If the house and its contents has been transferred to the new owners–and that is a big “if”–that means that the personal representative and the intent of the deceased are no longer relevant. You instead have the (relatively) simple situation of looking at who owns the property.

So the big question is, how was the property transferred to the siblings? Assuming there were no specific designations, in many cases, personal property will be divided amongst siblings, either by informal agreement or specifically by the personal representative. So, if a particular item belonged to sibling A, and sibling B took it, that’s no different in this case than in the case where sibling A went out and bought it in the first place. It belongs to sibling A, and sibling B had no right to take it.

If the property was left to the siblings as a group, meaning that all four were co-owners of each piece of property, then things get a little more complicated. Even in that case, no single owner has the right to take all the property for him- or herself without the permission of the others, but what constitutes permission is often less formal.

You didn’t say how the email was worded, but often one owner will notify the others of the intent to sell for a reason: because the others can’t agree on how to split things up, and it doesn’t make sense to continue storing them. In particular, if the one sibling intends to split the proceeds of the sale, and is giving the others the opportunity to ask that particular items be kept, it’s unlikely that a court would find that to be an issue of wrongdoing.

Also specific to the facts are what the property is, and what it’s worth. Taking ordinary household items is one thing; taking and selling that original Picasso your parents had is quite another.

So, as with many things in the law, the answer is that it depends. All that having been said, that’s the strict answer. The real answer is that the siblings should talk this over, and try to come to an agreement as to what will be done with the property.

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Author: House Attorney

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