I remember learning back in law school that stealing a “will, codicil, or other testamentary instrument” is a felony in Florida. I thought that was pretty funny – who would want to steal a Will? Well, several years later, I can tell you that it’s not funny – it happens far too often in dysfunctional families. And, sadly, there are a lot of dysfunctional families out there.
Florida statute 812.014(2)(c) has a list of property, which, if stolen, result in a crime of grand theft of the third degree and a felony of the third degree. Yes, grand theft. In addition to “a will, codicil, or other testamentary instrument,” other property included in this same category are:
- property valued from $750 to $19,999.99;
- most motor vehicles;
- commercially farmed horses, cows, pigs, birds, sheep, etc.;
- a bee colony of a registered beekeeper (I didn’t even realize there was such a thing as a registered beekeeper!);
- an aquaculture species (I had to look this up: fish, crustaceans, mollusks, algae and other organisms of value such as aquatic plants) at a certified aquaculture facility;
- a fire extinguisher that was installed in a building;
- a stop sign;
- 2000 pieces or more of any citrus fruit;
- anything taken from a posted construction site;
- and some other things.
To be clear, what this means is that stealing a Will, a $475 Glock handgun, a $35,000 Toyota Camry, a $200 fire extinguisher, lumber from a construction site, or jewelry worth $1000 results in the same criminal charge. The punishment for a felony of the third degree is imprisonment up to five years and fines up to $5,000. Interesting, huh?
Most people know what a Will is – that’s your Last Will & Testament. It’s your written instruction about how your property will be distributed at your death after a probate is completed. A codicil is essentially a simple amendment to a Will. The Will and the codicil together are now read as a single document (a codicil without the corresponding Will is just bird cage liner = worthless). A “testamentary instrument” generally refers to any document that has legal effect after you die. So, it would include a Will, a codicil, and a trust that has provisions regarding what happens at your death. It can also include death beneficiary designation forms, such as for an IRA, life insurance, or a bank account.
In every case that I’ve personally come across, a child stole a parent’s Will or Trust because he or she didn’t like what was in it. This can create a huge problem if the parent lacks the mental capacity to create a new Will or Trust. Also, many older people think they have to go back to the same attorney who drafted the documents to execute new ones, and without the actual documents, they can’t remember who that was. So they do nothing. In reality, any estate planning attorney can create new estate planning documents to replace the stolen ones.
If you have your original signed documents, make sure you have a digital or hard copy in a safe place. You’ll still need to execute a new Will (an original must be presented to the probate court when you die) but at least you’ll know who prepared your documents.
If your estate planning documents are stolen – whether by a family member friend, or a stranger – FILE A POLICE REPORT!! Do this as soon as you discover the theft. This is a serious crime, not just a family squabble.
Then call your estate planning attorney.
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Ready to make sure everything’s in order for your loved ones in the event you become incapacitated or die? Give Manasota Elder Law a call at 941-444-5958. We’ll help you determine whether you’re all set, or whether there are still some things that need to be done to protect what’s most important to you … your family.