What happens to my inheritance if it is later found to be the result of a crime?

  • 1
    Under the laws of what country / state / jurisdiction? Please add an appropriate tag. Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 16:25
  • @NateEldredge I am just curious about the topic. Actually I would be very interested in know-how is the issue dealt with in US and in Europe, any ideas what tag would that be? Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 17:49
  • @PedroAntonioFavuzzi: That would be too broad and lead to the question being closed. In the US this is under state law, and in Europe I presume it would be national law (not EU law). 50 US states + 44 European countries = 94 separate questions = too broad. Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 17:51
  • @NateEldredge AFAIK there is still no consensus on the jurisdiction question.
    – feetwet
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 21:44

1 Answer 1


It depends, for example it depends on local law, how the estate was passed on, and who legally owns the property. One scenario is that A steals jewelry from B, A dies and wills it to C. B has a legitimate legal claim to the property and can file a timely motion to recover the property (since A's personal representative published the standard announcement about claims against A's estate). Assuming that the court is convinced of the factual claim, C will probably be ordered to return the property to B. In common law jurisdictions, this is known as replevin.

Suppose, though, that B has also died. Then B's estate will do what B would have done – that is, B's personal representative will file the motion. Then again, there is the possibility that adverse possession laws will extinguish B's claim to the property, which, very roughly, means that after a certain period of time, you can't get the property back.

A further complication is that the government may have a superior right to seize property, see this about civil forfeiture in the US – in the US there are 50 varieties of state law plus federal law, so again it depends on the circumstances. A government may then seize the jewelry (as the proceeds of a crime) and do what it wants. Civil forfeiture pits property against the government, not a citizen vs. the government, so since property itself has no rights, it's hard to defend against a civil forfeiture suit (but there is some law that somewhat limits government power to seize property, again highly variable law).

One further consideration is statute of limitations law. At some point, it is simply not possible to sue to recover a loss – but that point, and the specific of the circumstances, are locally determined. It may be, for example, that the time limit starts only when the loss is discovered, not when it occurred – we say that the running of the time limit on actions is tolled.

  • For the scenario in the first paragraph, whom does B sue? Is it C, or the estate of A? Does it make a difference if the theft (or A's involvement) is discovered after probate has closed? Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 16:52

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