How to Make a Claim For an Unclaimed Estate
When someone dies without a will, the state’s intestacy laws dictate what happens to their estate. If no relatives can be found, the estate will sit unclaimed for a number of years until finally the state is entitled to take possession. In the meantime, if a previously undiscovered heir to the deceased shows up, they may be entitled to the entirety of the estate. Read on to learn about how to claim an unclaimed estate. Call a professional forensic genealogist for thorough and effective assistance identifying the proper heirs to an estate.
Find Out if You’re Entitled to Unclaimed Property
The first step in claiming an unclaimed estate is to find out whether you are entitled to the estate in the first place. There are many websites and resources listing unclaimed estates, including www.unclaimed.org, the website for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), which maintains a database of unclaimed property held by each state. Different states also maintain databases for unclaimed property, whether held by an estate administrator or otherwise (for example, Florida), and offer guidance on how to collect. You can search through databases of obituaries and other records to find out if you have any recently deceased relatives.
You can also contact a professional to assist you in tracking down unclaimed estates to which you might be entitled. A forensic genealogist can conduct a search for deceased relatives. There are attorneys who specialize in locating estates and assisting with the claims-filing process as well. We advise against relying on so-called “heir hunters,” who generally take a substantial portion of the estate from the heirs once found and have general reliability issues.
Talk to the Estate Administrator
If you discover that you are the heir to an unclaimed estate of a great-uncle or some other distant relative, then you might have a legal right to claim the assets of the estate. Contact the estate administrator to find out how to collect your rightful inheritance. You may need to file a claim in probate court, with assistance from a probate attorney, and provide documentary evidence establishing that you are indeed entitled to the unclaimed estate. A forensic genealogist, as well as a probate attorney, can help you prove your claims.
Unclaimed Estates Are Not Up for Grabs
It’s important to clarify: An unclaimed estate does not become a first-come, first-served free-for-all. There are legal processes for what happens when no heir can be found to take possession of the property in the estate. The estate administrator must make sufficient efforts to identify living heirs or other assigns, as well as to locate and contact those heirs. There is a set order for relatives who are entitled to the estate if no closer relatives can be found.
As we have previously discussed, if no heirs can be found, the property will eventually “escheat” or revert to the state. The property must be kept for a number of years, set by state law, before the state will take possession of the property. In California, for example, the state must wait for five years while the property remains unclaimed before the property will escheat to the state. After creditors are paid and other arrangements are handled, the state gets the property. Strangers cannot show up to claim the property; only heirs following state intestacy law are entitled to take the estate.
If you’re an estate administrator in need of experienced assistance identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate and for determination of heirship proceedings, or heir research services in order to satisfy due diligence requirements, contact the experienced and talented forensic genealogists at Von Langen, LLC at 800-525-7722.