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Man leaves $40 million estate behind, no will

Many Fairfax County residents are wise to ensure that they have a detailed and intentional estate plan in place. Whether a person is very wealthy or of more modest means, has a very large family or very few relatives, it is important to create a customized will and/or trust in order to express one's final wishes. When people pass away without wills, the future of their assets and personal belongings are subject to the one-size-fits-all process stipulated by state law.

An interesting example of this is the estate of a Holocaust survivor who died last year at the age of 97. The man, a successful real estate developer, did not leave behind any known heirs or family members. He did leave behind an estate that has been valued at almost $40 million, and it appears that he had no will in place.

The New York comptroller's office has reported that it is the largest unclaimed estate in the state's history.

Because he died without any known will or heirs, a public administrator is performing an in-depth and worldwide search to learn whether the man has a will someplace and whether any relatives can be identified. If nothing turns up, the estate will be directed to the state's coffers.

When people have no family members or loved ones whom they wish to inherit their assets, they may think that they do not need to create an estate plan. However, wills and trusts can also be used to direct an estate to organizations or charities, for example. In many cases, residents of Virginia choose to create a trust in order to leave money to various foundations or charitable organizations. This can make a significant impact, even the gift is not very sizeable.

Regardless of what one's final wishes may be, it is important to dictate this information in a clear estate plan. Doing so helps ensure that one's assets will be distributed to one's liking, and it will help prevent unnecessary disputes that can diminish the worth of an estate.

Source: New York Times, "Holocaust survivor left $40 million, but no heirs," Julie Satow, April 27, 2013

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