Largest Unclaimed Estate In U.S. History In Turmoil After Court’s Acceptance Of Suspicious Will Of Recluse Multi-Millionaire

Largest Unclaimed Estate In U.S. History In Turmoil After Court’s Acceptance Of Suspicious Will Of Recluse Multi-Millionaire

The battle over the originally unclaimed estate of a recluse multi-millionaire, Joseph Stancak, was turned topsy-turvy when the court admitted a mysterious will (without determining validity of the will) seven years after Stancak’s death.

Stancak lived frugally in a modest home.  He drove a 28-year-old car, wore old clothes and neighbors knew little about him.  He died at age 87 in December 2016 with no immediate family.  No will was found and no relative sought an heirship determination.  As a result, his $11 million bank account was given to the Illinois state treasurer – the largest unclaimed estate in U.S. history.  The state treasurer then did a search (at great cost) to find who would be heirs (the rules are different in Texas) since no will was found.  The state found 119 distant relatives (his siblings predeceased him and they also had no children) around the world who were anxiously awaiting their various shares of the $11 million estate.  The court even appointed an independent administrator who would be writing checks to the pleasantly surprised distant heirs (who didn’t even know the deceased).

Then, in the summer of 2023 (after the unusual case made national news), there was a petition to admit a will that left his entire estate to Smart Kids Child Care Inc. and the company’s president, Asad Mahmood.  The will was drafted by a personal injury attorney, John Alleman, who died in a plane crash shortly after the will was signed in 2015.  The present attorney representing Mahmood in this probate case alleged there were only 2 copies of the will – one to be kept by Mahmood and one to be held by Alleman (whose office was over 300 miles away from where Stancak lived).  The will to be kept by Allerman has not been located.

Stancak’s “will” had a couple of highly unusual provisions.  First, the will indicated that Alleman had the duty to notify Mahmood of Stancak’s death.  In most states, there is a duty to apply for probate of a will within a certain period of time.  For example, in Texas there should be an application to probate within 4 years unless there is a valid excuse why it wasn’t done.

Another highly unusual statement in the “will” was “I am a recluse individual in the state of Chicago, Illinois”.  How many wills would state “I am a recluse”?  How many attorneys would think Chicago was a state?

The independent administrator found no link between Stancak and Smart Kids which operates out of New York City (a different company is doing business at the address mentioned on Smart Kid’s website).

There is also a question of Stancak’s signature on the will since it didn’t match his previous signatures.  Nonetheless, the court admitted the will since it was “signed” by Stancak and 2 witnesses, although the judge stated it was not the final word on its validity.

Now distant relatives must hire an attorney to contest the “will” as a result, the assets of the estate are frozen and the case could go on for some time.  The mystery continues at the cost to the estate.  Simple planning could have avoided this costly dilemma.    

If interested in learning more about this article or other estate planning, Medicaid and public benefits planning, probate, etc., attend one of our free upcoming Estate Planning Essentials workshops by clicking here or calling 214-720-0102. We make it simple to attend and it is without obligation.

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