An unmarried Chicago man with no children, no living siblings, and no nieces or nephews quietly accumulated an $11 million estate over a long life, in large part through mutual-fund investing. In 2016, he died at home, with no will and no obvious heirs.
Now, as reported by local news site Block Club Chicago, 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.
Rudy Quinn, president of Linking Assets Inc., a company that finds unclaimed money, told Block Club he believes this is the largest unclaimed estate in U.S. history.
Although Quinn told Block Club it’s not entirely clear how Stancak grew his nest egg, the Illinois Treasurer’s office told the news outlet that mutual fund investments SPX, +1.19% were a significant part of the mix. Stancak, who was 87 when he died, did spend some of his money during his lifetime, including on a boat named “Easy.”
According to the report, 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 hail from the Chicago area, as well as Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York.
“ Rudy Quinn, president of Linking Assets Inc., a company that finds unclaimed money, told Block Club Chicago he believes Stancak’s is the largest unclaimed estate in U.S. history.”
“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 — and that can be anything from a bike to a private airplane — you need to create a will,” the estate attorneys at the California law firm Johnston Thomas urge in an information section on their website.
Stancak, who neighbors described for the Block Club report as having lived a “quiet life,” may have felt he had no one to leave his fortune to, and he apparently made no plans to bequeath money to a charity or any special causes.
For most people, “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,” personal finance columnist Morey Stettner writes for MarketWatch.
Relatives — whether close or distant — may also have to contend with various federal and state laws if they’re left to disentangle an inheritance.
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.
“‘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.’ ”
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.
Wondering if you might have a claim to a relative’s estate?
If you think you might have a claim to a deceased relative’s estate, a good place to begin your search is at 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.
MissingMoney.com also has a multistate database, which you can search by just entering your name.
And the federal government offers this free resource, with links to governmental and other entities that you can explore if you believe you have money coming from an estate or have claims to other property or benefits.
If you hit a dead end with these searches but still believe you are entitled to an inheritance, hiring an attorney familiar with the process in the state where the deceased person lived may prove beneficial.
The search may not be as “Easy” as Stancak’s boat claims, but it could well be worth it.