When an estate goes through the probate process in Illinois, an executor or administrator has the responsibility to accurately identify and report the property and assets that comprise it. However, their job can often become more difficult if a wrongdoer conceals or steals these assets. Illinois has a legal process to locate hidden assets in an estate — a petition for a “citation for the discovery of property” can be filed to do so.
What Assets Must Go Through the Probate Process?
An estate comprises all assets and property that make up someone’s net worth. This can include land and real estate, cash, securities, investments, collectibles, furniture, and other assets in which the decedent had a financial interest. When an individual passes away, an estate will go through the probate process in Illinois if their assets amount to over $100,000.
Importantly, many assets in Illinois do not need to go through the formal probate process. Assets held in a trust, those owned in joint tenancy, and assets subject to a beneficiary designation can avoid probate. Real estate subject to a transfer-on-death deed also does not need to go through the probate process.
What Sources are Used to Determine the Decedent’s Assets?
Any property in the estate must be reflected on an inventory report compiled by the estate representative. When conducting an initial investigation to identify assets in an estate, the decedent’s financial records and will should be thoroughly reviewed. Income tax returns, bank accounts, and checking accounts should also be assessed.
A number of other sources can be used to determine what property belongs to the estate. Critically, financial and banking records should be obtained as quickly as possible because most institutions do not retain this information beyond seven years. These records can often be secured by presenting a letter from the attorney of the estate or by serving a subpoena. Tangible personal property may be more difficult to locate than monetary assets — information may be acquired from the decedent’s family, friends, or neighbors.
Following an investigation into the decedent’s missing assets, the estate representative and attorney must consider whether it is possible — and economically practical — to recover them. Property of limited value may not be worth the time, expense, and effort to pursue. However, it may be worthwhile to seek valuable items such as jewelry or artwork.
If the representative believes there are additional assets that are concealed, they may be entitled to file a petition for a citation for the discovery of the assets or property.
What is a Citation to Discover Assets?
A citation proceeding to discover assets is a legal tool used by the probate court to recover property that makes up all or part of an estate. Under Illinois law, an estate representative or interested party can seek to recover a variety of assets in a citation proceeding, including a decedent’s tangible personal property. A representative might also request information, documents, or a party’s knowledge. Notably, Illinois case law is divided regarding whether monetary assets may be recovered in a citation proceeding, or if a separate action must be brought.
This type of legal action may be commenced by filing a petition if the representative of the estate or another interested person believes the following:
- An individual has concealed, converted, or embezzled personal property belonging to the decedent’s estate
- An individual has in their possession or control any personal property belonging to the decedent’s estate
- Someone has withheld information or knowledge needed by the representative to recover the property
Once the petition is filed, the court is required to issue a citation to the individual or parties who are believed to have engaged in the wrongful conduct or possess the information necessary to discover the assets. After the respondent has received the citation, they must appear in court where they will be required to answer questions under oath. At the hearing, the petitioner can also raise evidence to support their claim.
Upon evaluating the weight of the evidence, the court has the discretion to determine the title of the property and issue an order to return it. A judge may also sentence a respondent to jail who refuses to respond to questions, obey a court order, or return assets and property. In addition, a respondent may be held personally liable for financial losses incurred by the estate due to their misconduct.
Contact an Experienced Illinois Estate Planning Attorney
If you are facing an estate matter involving a citation proceeding for concealed assets, it’s important to have a knowledgeable attorney on your side who can guide you through the legal process. Located in Rolling Meadows, Illinois and serving clients throughout the Northwest suburbs and Chicago area, Hess Law Firm offers adept counsel and dependable representation for a wide variety of trusts and estates issues. Call (847) 367-6990 or email email@example.com today to schedule an appointment.