As we have discussed several times on this blog, estate planning is essential for people of all income levels. If someone dies without a will, probate matters can get infinitely complicated; in many cases, family members end up squabbling with one another for a slice of the estate.
However, when someone dies without heirs or any obvious survivors and leaves no will, the task of determining where the money goes becomes even more complicated — because the wishes of the person who died are essentially unknown.
This is what happened to a New York man, whose life contained heartbreak and tragedy and a real rags-to-riches existence. The man died at age 97 in 2012, having amassed a fortune of about $40 million as a real estate developer. He was a native in Poland and survived the Holocaust, losing many family members in the process.
He eventually married a fellow Holocaust survivor he had met after World War II. However, the couple had no children and ultimately divorced. The man’s funeral was attended by some friends, some of them fellow Holocaust survivors, but he had no known family.
Because he left no will, his estate is the largest unclaimed one in the history of New York. If a search for long-last relatives comes up empty-handed, then the estate will end up in the state treasury — certainly not what the man would have wanted, but because he failed to act during his lifetime, there may be no alternative. As one of the man’s friends said, “He was a very smart man, but died like an idiot.”
Source: The New York Times, “Holocaust survivor left $40 million, but no heirs,” Julie Satow, April 27, 2013