Officials are still searching for an heir after a 97-year-old man died, leaving behind a fortune of $40 million and no will. The elderly millionaire from Staten Island died in 2012. Since then, hundreds of people, mostly from Europe, have tried to cash in on the fortune by sending letters with sorrowful stories, family trees and photos.
The man, who was a Holocaust survivor from Poland, accumulated his wealth as a real estate investor. He never married and has no known, living relatives. In fact, most of his relations who lived in Poland were killed in the Holocaust. The millionaire ignored his lawyer’s advice to set up a will even though records of all his finances, paperwork and personal letters were preserved.
The task of finding a secret, lawful heir or a secret will hidden away somewhere has been left up to the Richmond County Public Administrator. The administrator and crews even searched the walls of the man’s home for the will but found jewelry and gold instead. According to reports, his fortune will be placed with the New York State Office of Unclaimed Funds.
In situations where a person dies without a valid will or trust, the estate of the decedent is distributed according to state intestacy law. For example, according to the intestate laws in New York, if a spouse dies and did not have a legal will prepared, his or her estate will be equally divided among the living spouse and any children, even though the decedent might have wished otherwise. People who find themselves in situations where a loved one has died intestate or without a valid will may wish to consult with an estate administration attorney who may be able to help protect their rights to inheritance.
Source: CBS New York, ” Staten Island Officials Search High And Low For Heir To $40 Million Fortune “, June 25, 2014
When a New York resident dies without having a will, the process of distributing the estate is taken out of the hands of the people who have a vested interest and thrown into probate. It may be that people who expected to receive a large inheritence end up with nothing because of the lack of a will being drawn up.
In cases where there is a valid will, however, the process can still be a complex one. The will needs to be validated during the probate process, and this can take a considerable amount of time and effort as well. The process can be complicated by variables such as overseas assets held by the decedent, or if there is a question over if the will is a valid one.
The probate process contains several incremental processes that can add to the length of time it takes to resolve the situation. These can include such issues as officially filing the will; appointing an executor (sometimes, but not always, a family member); collecting debts for the estate and paying the estate’s creditors; and, last but not least, distributing the remaining assets to the named beneficiaries.
There are often many different parties with a vested interest in the outcome of a particular probate process. These might include executors, some of whom may be neophytes when it comes to the estate process; heirs and beneficiaries, who are often eager to receive distributions from the estate; and creditors who might be expecting to be repaid.
Source: For more information about the probate process, please visit our Queens will probate page.
People in Queens might not stop to consider what will happen with their affairs after their death. This is perhaps especially true with younger people, who might think that having a will is not necessary because of their relative youth. If they do pass away without a will, known as intestacy , then their affairs are at the mercy of a court, rather than their own wishes.
This includes such things as the disposition of a person’s remains after his or her death. A recent case in Florida concerned this very matter. A 23-year-old man died in a car accident but didn’t leave a will or any instructions specifying what to do with his body after his death.
The man’s parents were his next of kin, but they were divorced. They came to an agreement that the body would be cremated, but they weren’t able to agree on what to do with their son’s ashes. The father wanted them buried in a family plot in another state, while the man’s mother preferred they be buried in Florida, closer to her.
The father asked the courts to rule that the ashes were actually property of the estate, so that they could be divided and each parent could bury half of them. The mother expressed her desire for the ashes not to be split up.
An appeals court sided with the mother and said that the ashes were not property, and could not be divided. It isn’t clear if the impasse between the deceased man’s parents will continue in the wake of this ruling.
Source: Flagler Live, ” South Florida Appeals Court Rules Cremation Ashes Are Not ‘Property,’ and May Not Be Divided ,” May 22, 2014
There are countless examples of how a poorly worded or ambiguous will can lead to battles among heirs — even for years after a person’s death. If some parties think that the trust assets are not being appropriately handled, then the case could be tied up in case for years. In some cases, however, some of those assets might already be more or less gone.
Singer James Brown’s name has constantly been in the headlines since his death in December 2006 because of his estate. Brown’s will, which he signed about six years before his death, specified that most of his estate go to an irrevocable trust for the benefit of educating poor children in Georgia and South Carolina. Three men, none of them related to Brown, were named as trustees.
One of those trustees was recently ordered to give a mansion that he bought in Honduras to the trust fund. The man resigned as a trustee in 2007 and bought the mansion for nearly $900,000 in cash. In total, more than $7 million of the $12 million he earned from the trust was disputed.
He has already run into legal trouble over his trusteeship. In 2009, he was jailed for three months for not paying a court-ordered $400,000 back to the trust fund; in 2011, he was sentenced to home confinement for taking more money from the trust than he was permitted.
The singer’s daughter said that the restitution will help the trust, which might have collapsed otherwise. Regardless, this seems unlikely to put the drama to rest completely.
Source: The Augusta Chronicle, ” Former James Brown trustee ordered to turn over mansion to musician’s trust fund ,” Meg Mirshak, May 19, 2014