Incredible Unclaimed Estates

Mon 15th Jan 2018

There are some fantastic stories of unclaimed estates where, when rightful heirs were eventually found, bestowed huge sums on the beneficiaries.

Take the case of Eva Paole, a retired maid from Argentina. Paole believed she could be the daughter of a baron, Rufino Otero who died in 1983 and had no children. DNA tests revealed this was true. Otero’s tomb was desecrated, and his body exchanged for another after Paole began legal proceedings, but DNA taken from his mother’s remains proved the connection. Paole eventually inherited $40 million after a nine-year legal battle.

Another rags to riches story is one that centres on two penniless down and outs who were found to the rightful beneficiaries of a £4 million fortune. Hungarian brothers Zsolt and Geza Peladi lived in a cave outside Budapest in Hungary where they scraped together money by selling scrap they found on the streets. Their mother had come from a wealthy family but had severed all ties with them. She later abandoned her children, who also included a sister living in the US.

However, when their grandmother died, the brothers and sister were found to be the rightful heirs to her estate, thanks to German descendance laws, as their mother was also dead. The brothers found about their good fortune when lawyers got in touch via a homeless charity in Hungary.

Finally, the most incredible story is the case of Roman Blum. When he died in 2012, he left behind him the most extensive unclaimed estate in New York history – some $40 million.

Blum’s wife had died more than two decades earlier (they were divorced at the time) and the couple didn’t have children. Blum was a 97-year-old property mogul who had made his fortune through buying up real estate in the New York borough of Staten Island. He was also a Holocaust survivor. Friends knew he entered the US in 1949, but little is known about his life before the Holocaust and the end of World War Two. Blum was born in Chelm, Poland, and there was speculation that he had a wife and child who died in the concentration camps (though there’s no record of them).

If no relatives can be found, the money goes to New York’s Department of Finance.

In the US, Blum’s potential beneficiaries are referred to as “laughing heirs”, i.e. people so distant from him that they would feel no grief at his passing. And presumably be delighted to inherit a share of $40 million.

Reasons friends gave for Blum’s refusal to write a will included paranoia about lawyers discovering how wealthy he was, and a refusal to contemplate his own mortality triggered by his experiences in the Second World War.

Most people who receive a surprise inheritance will not receive life-changing amounts of money, but it is still worth checking out if you could be a potential heir. Sign up for our FREE SERVICE to receive weekly emails detailing the latest and historical unclaimed estates.


Unclaimed Estates and the Potential of Inheritance

Mon 4th Dec 2017

Could you be the heir to an unclaimed estate? Put it this way, your chances of inheriting money or property are far higher than winning the lottery…

The odds of winning the Lotto jackpot are one in more than 45 million, and even five main numbers and the bonus ball are estimated at one in 7.5 million. On the other hand, the odds of inheriting an estate are far, far smaller, and while the sums of money involved probably won’t be in the retiring early, yacht-buying category, it could still mean a holiday, paying off debts, buying some furniture or redecorating the home.

What’s the first step to take if you think you could be the heir to an estate? Unclaimed estates are the results of someone dying without immediate next of kin, and that person not leaving a valid will. People don’t write wills for a variety of reasons – from not thinking they are old enough, not wanting to do something so ‘morbid’, not believing their estate is worth anything, not believing they have anyone to leave their goods to, or just not getting round to it.

We keep lists of all the unclaimed estates in the UK. That number currently stands at more than 14,000 estates. Any estates that are unclaimed before 2013 are listed as historical, and many of the estates on the list fit that category.

People move around much more these days, which can result in losing touch with family members or just knowing who and where your family is. A great aunt, a cousin on your mother or father’s side – they could be the ones who die believing they have no nearby kith or kin, and their estates end up on the lists of properties unclaimed.

How does the law work when it comes to intestacy? If a person dies without leaving a will, the order of inheritance is:

  • Wife, husband or civil partner
  • Children, grandchildren# great-grandchildren etc
  • Mother or father
  • Brothers or sisters who share both parents, or their children (a person’s nieces and nephews)
  • Half-brother or sisters or their children
  • Uncles and aunts, or their children (cousins or their descendants).

We publish weekly lists of all the unclaimed estates. You can create surname alerts through our website so that if the details of an unclaimed estate match your alert, we’ll send you an email. Sign up here.

Why Do Estates Remain Unclaimed?

Mon 4th Dec 2017

To most people, the idea of an unclaimed estate seems alien. Why do houses, properties and money remain in limbo?

For the most part, this happens when someone dies and does not leave a valid will – otherwise known as dying intestate. Again, this is more common when a person has no near next of kin. That person might have outlived their spouse, and not have had children. Sometimes, people feel it isn’t worth the effort of making a will if they do not have close-by heirs to leave their worldly goods to.

However, a lack of close relatives doesn’t mean they do not have entitled beneficiaries. In some cases, this might include family members they have lost touch with or don’t know about. In terms of the laws of intestacy, lack of knowledge doesn’t disqualify someone. When a person dies intestate, probate genealogists look to the nearest relatives. This might cover siblings, and/or the families of siblings. It could spread to the maternal or paternal family tree.

In the worst-case scenario, an unclaimed estate will pass to the Crown, but the Crown and the legal process would rather see properties pass to the rightful heirs and only when this search has been exhausted, would it be the case that an unclaimed estate would go into such ownership.

In some parts of the country, unclaimed estates create a more significant problem than just rightful heirs missing out on their inheritance. Take Ireland, for example. In the last few years, Ireland has suffered an unprecedented housing crisis. Homelessness is at record levels, and the situation isn’t helped by the number of derelict and empty properties. Empty properties can be the result of the previous owner’s death, and the property not being passed on. The nearest relatives could live elsewhere, perhaps not even in Ireland.

If they did know of the property they are entitled to inherit, they could put it on the housing market. The Housing Agency in Ireland is making a point of buying derelict and empty properties so they can be sold to housing bodies in Ireland to ease homelessness. It’s an all-round win-win situation – heirs get to profit from the unclaimed estate, and the home is used once more.

Of course, the best solution to unclaimed estates is for people to make wills – no matter what their situation in life. But in the meantime, if you want to find out if you could be entitled to an estate, why not sign up for our FREE service where we email you the details of unclaimed estates every week?