By Jason Stern
Have you received a letter from an “heir finder” or “heir hunter” company seeking to collect money on your behalf? Does it sound too good to be true? Did the heir finder letter cryptically offer you their services to collect money from a distant relative’s NY estate on your behalf as an heir without offering any specifics? Did the language of the heir finder letter pressure you to blindly sign a contract without knowing the size of the estate or even the identity of your deceased relative?
If so this letter might not be the far-fetched wild goose chase or scam you think it is. It may in fact be a treasure hunt but that does not mean you should blindly hire the heir finders without knowing more and here’s why. Each year tens of billions of dollars in unclaimed estate assets sit in the coffers of State treasuries as a result of individuals who passed away without a will and without any identifiable next of kin known as heirs. These estates are called NY kinship estates and our firm is one of the few who have a perfect track record recovering NY kinship estate assets for distant relatives. Unlike heir finders, genealogical research companies or heir hunters as they are called within the industry, we are bound by ethical rules as attorneys requiring our firm to disclose the details of all NY kinship estates before entering into any agreement to represent an heir. While many heir finders enlist high pressure tactics in failing to disclose the identity of the decedent’s estate or the amount of inheritance involved we are transparent because we are held to a higher ethical standard. Heirs are placed at a distinct disadvantage when heir finders withhold important details about a NY kinship estate prior to retaining their services.
The good news is that learning you are possibly the recipient of a distant relative’s NY kinship estate can be the greatest day of your life. The better news is you have options, like the option to choose the best representation you can to protect your interests in a NY kinship estate.
Unclaimed funds and States’ dirty secrets
In Vermont $80 million dollars in unclaimed funds sits in the State’s Treasury Office accounts nearly all of it from abandoned estate assets. Unclaimed estates, accounts ranging from forgotten security deposits, misplaced insurance policies and safety deposit boxes are all eventually deposited into the State’s Treasuries as well. In Nevada their State’s Treasury is holding nearly $1 billion dollars in unclaimed estate assets and/or abandoned property, mainly from individuals who died without a will. In fact in the 15 states of Washington, Missouri, Florida, New Jersey, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Massachusetts, Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, California and NY at least $1 billion dollars or more remains on deposit in unclaimed estate assets in their State’s Treasuries as well. New York State alone has more than $15 billion dollars in unclaimed NY estate funds on deposit the majority of which is derived from NY kinship estates.
So how do State Treasuries rack up tens of billions of dollars in unclaimed estate funds?
In NY for instance whenever someone passes away intestate, without a will, without any next of kin closer to 1stcousins the NY estate becomes a NY kinship estate. So what happens in a NY kinship estate? The technical answer is pursuant to the Estate Powers and Trusts Law §4-1.1(a) of the NY estate law in such instances, a Public Administrator is charged with administering the NY kinship estate. Eventually a NY kinship trial will be held to determine the validity of each perspective heir’s claim to the NY inheritance. If nobody comes forward with a NY estate lawyer to appear on their behalf or worse, if they do not prove their entitlement to the inheritance, the moneys are then deposited with the NY State Comptrollers Office indefinitely.
In these NY kinship estates, more specifically the kinship proceedings themselves, each claimant has the burden of proving entitlement to the NY kinship estate and must establish that they are the decedent’s closest surviving blood relatives. For NY kinship to be established by heirs or next of kin, claimants must make both an evidentiary showing in the NY kinship estate hearing of 1. How each heir is related to the decedent and 2. That no other person of the same or nearer degree, such as nieces or nephews, survived the decedent. Upon proof that no heirs, distributees, next of kin or distant relatives other than those before the Court exist, the class of heirs may be closed and the NY kinship estate distributed. In other words, according to the NY estate law, heirs seeking to claim a NY kinship estate must show that all lines of descent which would precede their own claim as next of kin, are gone. To do this your NY kinship lawyer must reconstruct the entire family tree killing off each descendent, one by one, closer in lineage before establishing an heir’s right to the NY inheritance.
If you or someone you love is the descendent of a relative who passed without a NY will, you may have rights under the NY estate law. Feel free to call an experienced NY estate lawyer at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates, at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation. Our NY kinship lawyers have nearly 60 years of combined NY estate law experience championing the rights of heirs by successfully handling these often treacherous NY kinship cases in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Richmond, Orange and Dutchess.