When Joseph Stancak died in Chicago at the age of 87, he left behind $11 million, and had no will. Now, six years later, 119 distant relatives have been identified and will inherit a share of his assets. Here’s the story—and a reminder: make a plan. Even if your assets are modest, they can make a big difference in someone’s life.
Largest Unclaimed Estate Ever?
Joseph Stancak’s estate is believed to be the largest unclaimed estate ever in the United States. Market Watch reports that he never married or had children and lived a quiet life in a modest home in Chicago and on his boat, which was named “Easy.”
Absent an estate plan, or obvious heirs, a team of attorneys had quite an investigative challenge, but ultimately turned up 119 relatives, who are spread out across the United States and around the world and have this in common: they never new Stancak. As the unfolding story goes:
A team of lawyers is preparing to distribute Joseph Stancak’s estate among 119 relatives, some in North America and some in Europe, and all of them distant cousins. After taxes, each heir will get around $60,000, the news report said. Not a single one had ever heard of Stancak until the estate lawyers consolidated scores of accounts, filled in his family tree and tracked down dozens of surprised relatives….Stancak’s six siblings had all died before him, and none of them had living children. In the end, the family tree that the attorneys put together went “five generations deep.” The 119 heirs to Stancak’s millions are in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. Stateside, they reside in the Chicago area, as well as Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York….Neighbors in Gage Park…described [Stancak] as having lived a “quiet life,”…and he apparently made no plans to bequeath money….
Personal finance expert Morey Stettner reminds us: “not making a will is a sure way to tarnish your memory, unleash family conflict and waste money on lawyers and taxes that would have gone to your heirs….” Essentially, dying without a will or trust leaves it to the law—and relatives, whether near or far, to untangle the affairs (and assets) left behind:
A person who dies without a will is said to have died intestate, and the intestacy laws of the state where the person resided will decide how bank accounts, real estate, securities and other assets will be divided. Real estate located in a different state than where the deceased person resided is handled according to the intestacy laws of the state where it is located….If the court cannot identify a rightful heir or heirs, assets and property are absorbed by the state.
Currently, states, federal agencies and other entities collectively hold more than $58 billion in unclaimed cash and benefits. That’s roughly $186 for every U.S. resident, although not all that money can be directly linked to estates.
Important To Know—and Do!
As attorneys at Johnston Thomas sum up: “Many people think that estate and will planning is only for the elite. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you have an asset (can be anything from a bike to a private airplane), you need to create a will, period!” Indeed, there is always someone—or a charitable organization—that can use what we can’t take with us. In addition to ensuring that assets are allocated via a will or trust, proper estate planning also involves the designation of the fiduciary who will ultimately administer our affairs. When there is a trust, the fiduciary is a trustee. If there is a will, this person is typically referred to as an executor. Depending on the circumstances and location, the fiduciary could also be referred to as a personal representative. No matter what term is used, the family member, friend or professional appointed has a fiduciary obligation “to act with the utmost good faith,” putting the interests of the beneficiaries before their own, while administering the affairs of the estate. Given the significant responsibilities involved in serving as a fiduciary, bonds, frequently referred to as estate bonds may be requested. Estate bonds are a type of fiduciary bond, and lawyers explain: “A fiduciary bond is a legal instrument that essentially serves as insurance to protect beneficiaries, heirs and creditors when a fiduciary fails to perform honestly or competently…In general, a fiduciary is someone who owes a duty of loyalty to protect the interest of another….” It’s quick and easy to obtain estate bonds from leading national provider, Colonial Surety. The steps to obtaining an estate bond or other fiduciary bond at Colonial are easy: get a quote online; fill out the information, and enter payment. Then, print or e-file the bond in minutes.
No one is certain about the details of how Joseph Stancak grew his nest egg, but investments in mutual funds were part of the mix. Wondering if a long lost—or unknown relative might have left behind assets that you can claim? Try: “Unclaimed.org, the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). This free site contains information about unclaimed property held by each state. You can search every state where a loved one lived or worked to see if anything shows up.”
Across the country, lawyers find that Colonial Surety’s online portfolio speeds up the process whenever fiduciary or court bonds are needed.
Colonial’s direct, fully digital, user-friendly system reduces the time, hassle and expense typically associated with antiquated bonding processes. For even more value added service, lawyers are invited to sign up for The Partnership Account® for Attorneys. This free business service enables attorneys to easily coordinate, view, complete and e-file the court and fiduciary bonds clients need. Increase your efficiency—and lower costs for clients. See for yourself today: The Partnership Account® for Attorneys.
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