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Repossession of possessions upon death

Heymatt: A few years back, a friend’s husband’s death required the coroner. His very expensive cowboy boots, sterling silver belt buckle on a nice leather belt, wedding ring, and watch were undamaged. He also had gold crowns on three teeth. The ring and watch were immediately given to the wife (who found him dead in their home) by the coroner who arrived on the scene. Days later, the wife’s brother called the cremation place to inquire about the boots, belt, and gold crowns. The cremation place told the brother that those items were with the coroner. The coroner said that those items were sent with the body to the crematory. Rather than start a huge scene, they decided to just drop the subject and move on. So, Matt, which place of business is responsible for those items?

— Savoy, via email

As usual, nobody should take what I’m about to say as legal advice. I chatted with a friend who has practiced law for more than 30 years, but it’s not like either of us has all the facts to work with here. Still, your situation is more unique than you might think. Usually, people aren’t carrying much of value when they die. It’s a lot more common to shuffle off this mortal coil in a nightshirt than a flashy Texas tuxedo. Nevertheless, sometimes people die in their Sunday best and it’s necessary to deal with the decedent’s effects. The standard procedure is to do what the coroner did with the watch and ring; i.e., release them immediately to the next of kin. The county is pretty adept at dealing with a situation like yours and there are systems in place to prevent accusations of theft...like the one you’re making now. I’d be flabbergasted if there wasn’t an official receipt or inventory of the decedent’s personal property somewhere, the creation of which (whether by the coroner or the crematory) would more or less prove who took responsibility for the items in question.

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Heymatt: A few years back, a friend’s husband’s death required the coroner. His very expensive cowboy boots, sterling silver belt buckle on a nice leather belt, wedding ring, and watch were undamaged. He also had gold crowns on three teeth. The ring and watch were immediately given to the wife (who found him dead in their home) by the coroner who arrived on the scene. Days later, the wife’s brother called the cremation place to inquire about the boots, belt, and gold crowns. The cremation place told the brother that those items were with the coroner. The coroner said that those items were sent with the body to the crematory. Rather than start a huge scene, they decided to just drop the subject and move on. So, Matt, which place of business is responsible for those items?

— Savoy, via email

As usual, nobody should take what I’m about to say as legal advice. I chatted with a friend who has practiced law for more than 30 years, but it’s not like either of us has all the facts to work with here. Still, your situation is more unique than you might think. Usually, people aren’t carrying much of value when they die. It’s a lot more common to shuffle off this mortal coil in a nightshirt than a flashy Texas tuxedo. Nevertheless, sometimes people die in their Sunday best and it’s necessary to deal with the decedent’s effects. The standard procedure is to do what the coroner did with the watch and ring; i.e., release them immediately to the next of kin. The county is pretty adept at dealing with a situation like yours and there are systems in place to prevent accusations of theft...like the one you’re making now. I’d be flabbergasted if there wasn’t an official receipt or inventory of the decedent’s personal property somewhere, the creation of which (whether by the coroner or the crematory) would more or less prove who took responsibility for the items in question.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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