When an individual dies without a will they are said to die "intestate". As such, according to state laws, their assets are to be valued and distributed through a process known as probate. Many individuals take steps to avoid probate as it can be lengthy and expensive. What's more, information pertaining to an estate that has gone through probate becomes public record.
In most cases, individuals of considerable wealth take steps to ensure they have a comprehensive estate plan. By taking care to ensure a will is properly drafted and executed and appropriate trusts are in place, wealthy individuals can ensure assets pass directly to heirs. What happens, however, in cases where there is no will or surviving heirs?
A 97-year-old successful and wealthy real estate developer recently died. A Holocaust survivor who fled his native Poland only to be captured by the Russians and forced to fight, the man eventually escaped and emigrated to the United States.
While living in the U.S., the man worked hard to build a successful real estate develop businesses. He was married for a short time, but divorced and he never fathered any children. At the time of his death, the man's estate was worth an estimated $40 million.
Despite his considerable wealth and fortune, however, the man did not have a will. As such, the state in which he resided assigned a public administrator to handle how to value, manage and distribute his assets. Monies from the man's estate were used to attempt to find possible living heirs, but efforts to do so have proved fruitless. As such, the bulk of the man's assets will be absorbed by the state.
While there is no way to know for certain how the man would have wanted his assets distributed, it's likely he would not have wanted them to go to the state. In cases where an individual has no living heirs, assets can be left to charities, educational or religious institutions or close friends.
Source: Star Tribune, "Holocaust survivor left $40 million, but no heirs," Julie Satow, April 27, 2013