May 11, 2013

What happens to the money of a Florida resident who dies without a will?

Dying intestate - without a will - rarely creates headlines. Generally it creates only confusion and  unnecessary expense for those left behind.

Unless you're Roman Blum. The Staten Island, New York resident's death is making headlines because he left behind $40 million - and absolutely no clue as to how he wanted it distributed.

A Holocaust survivor and real estate developer, Blum was not married at the time of his death, nor did he have children. The public administrator in the Richmond Surrogate Court is searching for any living distant relatives. If none can be found, the money will pass to New York State. The case would be handled in the same fashion by Florida if Blum had been a Florida resident.

Speaking to The New York Times, Blum's accountant Mason Corn said, “I spoke to Roman many times before he passed away, and he knew what to do, how to name beneficiaries. Two weeks before he died, I had finally gotten him to sit down. He saw the end was coming. He was becoming mentally feeble. We agreed. I had to go away, and so he told me, ‘O.K., when you come back I will do it.’ But by then it was too late. We came this close, but we missed the boat.”

Many mysteries follow Blum to the grave. Did he have a will that can't be located? If so, it's as good as not having one. Did he not do one because he did not wish to face his own mortality? Or did his miraculous escape from the Nazis make him think his luck would never run out?
If a Florida resident dies without a will or other instrument directing the distribution of assets, the estate is distributed to the decedent's heirs according to Florida intestacy law.  If there are no blood relatives, as in the case of Roman Blum, the estate goes to the State of Florida. Few people would choose to leave what they've managed to accumulate to the government (one exception is my late client Maria Woods, who mindfully chose to do just that). Even if someone doesn't have relatives, there may be a particular charity that is meaningful to the person that could greatly benefit from the gift. 

Consult a Florida estate planning attorney to discuss who you want to get your heard-earned assets when you pass away.

Read more about Roman Blum here.

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