A Polish Holocaust survivor earned the dubious distinction of leaving behind the largest unclaimed estate in New York history. The man, who died at age 97, left behind nearly $40 million, but it remains unclaimed because no estate administration documents existed to guide the distribution of his estate. The man left behind no remaining relatives. He was childless and his wife died in 1992.

The public administrator in charge of the case says he has auctioned off many of the man’s valuables, sold the man’s home and has been putting other properties on the market. Much of the estate is being used to pay for taxes. If no relatives are identified, the man’s massive fortune will simply be absorbed by the state’s coffers.

The man’s accountant and long-time friend tried to convince him to put together a will during his last days, but the man had become increasingly mentally feeble. He continued to put off the decision, and by the time the accountant could return, he had already passed away.

The man, a Holocaust survivor, struck an imposing figure at six feet tall. A gambler, drinker and avid socialite, he escaped the horrors of war to build a solid life in America. The man became a property developer after his arrival in the United States, and his success followed him throughout life. In death, though, his legacy is not carried on because of his cavalier attitude toward estate planning.

This tragic story should be a lesson to all of us; even though we may not be in possession of a $40 million estate, we all want to have control of our holdings after we die. If you fail to write a will, your family members, friends and other beneficiaries could lose out on the financial contributions you intended them to have. Contact a probate attorney today to learn more about your estate planning options.

Luis E. Barreto