When you go through life without a will or some other legal device that arranges for asset transfers, you are surrendering control of where your resources will land after you pass away. There are certain rules that the state must follow, but under some circumstances the state can actually absorb the assets left behind by a resident.
The first order of business would be to find out if the deceased had relatives, and in most instances people will step forward. There are intestacy rules of succession that guide the court regarding who should receive the assets. The first people in line are a surviving spouse and lineal descendants. Precise rules vary state-by-state.
A very interesting intestacy scenario is playing itself out in the state of New York right now. At the beginning of last year, a multimillionaire named Roman Blum died at the age of 97 in New York. He was a real estate developer and he had a great deal of success over the course of his life. According to reports, Blum had some $40 million in his possession when he died.
What he didn’t have was a last will or any other estate planning documents. Officials have been trying to find relatives, conducting a search around the world. However, they have come up empty to this point.
Under New York law, interested parties have three years to come forward claiming a right to the estate after the death of the decedent in question. After this period of time expires, the state of New York has the right to assume ownership of the funds under escheat rules.