How to deal with relatives pilfering property of the recently-deceased

Most of us don't have to dig very far into our older relative's memories to uncover an ugly incident in which a relative of a just-deceased family member helped him or herself to an item, perhaps a diamond ring or a cherry chiffarobe, from the deceased's household, "just to remember him by." Such theft, in the midst of grieving, can create a family rift that a lifetime won't heal.

How can you avoid such a sordid scene at the death of a loved one that had lived alone? Ideally, the executor will take responsibility for the estate and plan for all eventualities. This is not always practical, though, if the executor lives at some distance. In that case, the executor should recruit another family member/friend/attorney to act on their behalf, both in preplanning and handling the property during the dying process and immediately after.

Preplanning begins, of course, with a valid will. But that is just the first step. Not many of us have full inventories of our household items, and who could say for sure that Grandma still had that Persian rug at the time of her death, or had, as a nephew claims, given it to him?