Incredible Unclaimed Estates

Mon 15th Jan 2018


There are some fantastic stories of unclaimed estates where, when rightful heirs were eventually found, bestowed huge sums on the beneficiaries.

Take the case of Eva Paole, a retired maid from Argentina. Paole believed she could be the daughter of a baron, Rufino Otero who died in 1983 with no known living children. DNA tests revealed this was true. Otero’s tomb was desecrated, and his body exchanged for another after Paole began legal proceedings, but DNA taken from his mother’s remains proved the connection. Paole eventually inherited $40 million after a nine-year legal battle.

Another rags to riches story is one that centres on two penniless down and outs, who were found to the rightful beneficiaries of a £4 million fortune. Hungarian brothers Zsolt and Geza Peladi lived in a cave outside Budapest in Hungary where they scraped together money by selling scrap they found on the streets. Their mother had come from a wealthy family but had severed all ties with them. She later abandoned her children, who also included a sister living in the US.

However, when their grandmother died, the brothers and sister were found to be the rightful heirs to her estate, thanks to German descendance laws, as their mother was also dead. The brothers found about their good fortune when lawyers got in touch via a homeless charity in Hungary.

Finally, the most incredible story is the case of Roman Blum. When he died in 2012, he left behind him the most extensive of unclaimed estates in New York history – some $40 million.

Blum’s wife had died more than two decades earlier (they were divorced at the time) and the couple didn’t have children. Blum was a 97-year-old property mogul who had made his fortune through buying up real estate in the New York borough of Staten Island. He was also a Holocaust survivor. Friends knew he entered the US in 1949, but little is known about his life before the Holocaust and the end of World War Two. Blum was born in Chelm, Poland, and there was speculation that he had a wife and child who died in the concentration camps (though there’s no record of them).

If no relatives can be found, the money goes to New York’s Department of Finance.

In the US, Blum’s potential beneficiaries are referred to as “laughing heirs”, i.e. people so distant from him that they would feel no grief at his passing. They would also presumably be delighted to inherit a share of $40 million.

Reasons friends gave for Blum’s refusal to write a will included paranoia about lawyers discovering how wealthy he was, and a refusal to contemplate his own mortality triggered by his experiences in the Second World War.

Most people who receive a surprise inheritance will not receive life-changing amounts of money. Most unclaimed estates are small amounts, but it is still worth checking out if you could be a potential heir. Why not search your family surnames on our Bona Vacantia List to see if you could be entitled to inherit a small fortune.