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What should I do if I suspect theft from an estate?

When an estate trustee in California appears to be untrustworthy, state laws give you some options to protect trust assets while you work to prove your case. According to the American Bar Association, California courts recognize that, if assets are not frozen at the beginning of litigation, there may not be much left by the time a case has been made against the trustee. 

Courts have broad power over trusts, which stems from their responsibility to maintain fair access to trust beneficiaries. This power includes the ability to not only remove trustees but also to set aside their decisions and appoint a temporary trustee.

If you can prove a trustee is in possession of stolen trust money, you can sue to prevent those funds from being used while the case is under litigation. Asking the court to appoint a trustee ad litem is one method of accomplishing this type of injunction, albeit in an indirect manner. This injunction applies to money already in the trustee's possession. A separate petition can be made to bar the trustee from using other assets still in possession of the trust.

In addition to these injunctions, you can ask the court to restrict the account, which prohibits the bank and all employees, even executives, from releasing funds in the trust without an order from the court. This restriction provides an extra level of protection for trust assets.

The court can also order the trustee to restrict the funds and show proof of having taken this action to the court in a timely manner. Another option is to simply show bank officials the initial injunction, which is often enough to get them to restrict the account.

To restrict the sale of real estate held by the trust and misuse of funds from the sale, you may wish to file a notice of litigation, which makes property sales difficult to pull off. Finally, the court has authority to appoint a temporary trustee during litigation to protect further misuse of trust assets.

This information is provided to give you an idea of what to expect, but it should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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