Protecting Your Estate
In the land of opportunity, many people have “made it” and made it big. Mr. Roman Blum did just that. However, having amassed close to 40 million dollars, he died last year at the age of 97 with no apparent heirs to his fortune. According to the state comptroller’s office, Mr. Blum’s estate is the largest unclaimed estate in New York State history. His story illustrates how critical it is to engage in estate planning.
Mr. Blum was born in Poland. Having survived the Holocaust, he met and married his wife, also a Holocaust survivor, after the war. They migrated to the United States and settled in Forest Hills. He was a real estate developer who seized the opportunity to develop land in Staten Island when the Verrazano Bridge opened in 1964. He ultimately moved to Staten Island himself. He and his wife never had any children. It was said that the former Mrs. Blum suffered from infertility after being a subject of Dr. Mengele’s experiments while she was held in Auschwitz. The couple eventually divorced and Mrs. Blum later died in 1992. Mr. Blum was said to have had a wife and children in Poland before the war, but there is no evidence of any surviving relatives.
In a case like that of Mr. Blum, in which no will was found, the estate will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy. This means that the estate will go through an “administration proceeding” where an administrator (the equivalent of an executor in a will) is appointed to handle the estate. The following list of individuals may petition to be the administrator of the decedent’s estate:
- (a) surviving spouse
- (b) children
- (c) grandchildren
- (d) father or mother
- (e) brothers or sisters
- (f) other persons who are distributees (entitled to receive under the law).
If none of the above individuals exist, the Public Administrator of the county will be appointed. Currently, the Richmond County Public Administrator’s office is handling the estate of Mr. Blum. The Public Administrator is charged with collecting his assets, selling them, and paying the appropriate federal and New York State estate taxes. The Public Administrator is also conducting a thorough search for a will, and is hiring a genealogist in an effort to find Mr. Blum’s relatives. If any relatives are found, the order of individuals entitled to inherit from Mr. Blum’s estate is as follows:
- surviving spouse and descendants (children, grandchildren, etc);
- surviving parents;
- surviving descendants of parents (i.e. siblings, nephews and nieces);
- surviving grandparents or the descendants of grandparents (i.e. uncles, aunts, and cousins)
If no will is found and no relatives are located, Mr. Blum’s estate will be turned over to the New York City Department of Finance. After three years, if no relatives come forward, the funds will then go to the New York State Comptroller’s office as unclaimed funds. If any relatives ever surface, all the funds will be returned.
Mr. Blum’s case is a stunning example of the importance of engaging in estate planning. Even if you do have close relatives, it is imperative to take control of your own estate. Why have New York State determine who your beneficiaries will be? Be proactive and make sure that you have a well-prepared will, power of attorney, statutory gifts rider, health care proxy, living will, and living trust. If Mr. Blum had planned ahead, he could have specified in a will that his estate would go to charitable organizations serving Holocaust survivors. Or, he could have engaged in more complex estate planning to avoid or minimize estate taxes and provide for an extensive list of beneficiaries.
This article was written by Ronald A. Fatoullah, Esq, CELA, managing attorney of Ronald Fatoullah & Associates in Great Neck, New York.