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Financial Planning > Trusts and Estates > Estate Planning

New York's worst estate planning failure, ever

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A recent story in the New York Times tells of Roman Blum, a Holocaust survivor who died in 2012 at the age of 97, leaving behind no heirs and most importantly, no will. This is worth noting because Blum was also a very successful land developer on Staten Island, and had an estate of some $40 million at the time of his passing. Since Blum died, there has been an exhaustive search for somebody, anybody, who might be legally entitled to Blum’s fortune. So far, there has been no one, and soon, Blum’s considerable fortune will pass into the hands of New York State. It will be the largest unclaimed property estate in the history of New York.

I can hardly think of less deserving hands in which to place such resources, especially given the state’s ongoing refusal to do right by the many innocent people victimized by the unjust liquidation of Executive Life of New York at the hands of a (Corrupt? Incompetent? Take your pick.) New York Liquidation Bureau. It would not be the first time Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration plundered the fortunes of others in order to feed the dragon that is his state’s political machine, so for the state to devour Mr. Blum’s hard-won riches seems both predictable as well as unjust.

Railing against New York State (or any state, for that matter) as the recipient for a person’s estate is a fool’s errand, however. To be fair to New York, the procedure they have in place does deliver the estate money to an heir the moment one is discovered. So it is not like New York is trying to get its hands on something it does not deserve. This truly is a case where, failing no other possible place for the money to go, it ends up going to the state in which Blum himself was a resident. And ultimately, this really does come back to Blum, and not New York. After all, it was Blum who should have planned for his estate, and didn’t.

Roman Blum was a hard-driving, gutsy fellow whose personal history remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. Nobody really knows exactly when or where he was born, but it was likely somewhere in Poland in 1914 or 1915. He fled to Russia to escape the Nazis, was detained briefly and then released so he could fight in the war. By some accounts, he lost a wife and child to the Holocaust. He married after the war and moved to a displaced persons camp in Germany, and afterwards, moved to the United States, living in Forest Hills, Queens, among many of those he knew from the displaced persons camp. Ultimately, he became a wealthy land developer, moving to Staten Island and divorcing his wife, which alienated him from many of his friends. Childless, Blum lived like a bachelor, became increasingly pennywise, and ultimately died with a vast unspent fortune and apparently, no planning whatsoever on what to do with it once he was gone.

Blum swore to friends he would make estate plans, but he never did. In the words of one of his few remaining friends, Blum was a smart guy who died like an idiot. A $40 million idiot, by the looks of it. Nobody really knows why he left such an important task as estate planning undone. Maybe, like so many others, he didn’t want to contemplate his mortality. Maybe, knowing he had nobody to leave his millions to, and not having a heart for charity, he simply didn’t care what happened to money he knew he could not take with him. Whatever his reasons, Blum proved one thing: we make estate plans for when we are gone out of a love for those around us. That Blum did not have sufficient reason to do so is a deeply sad coda to a long and eventful life. Everybody should have somebody to leave something to.


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