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Marlene Cooper Law

Your Unintended Heir – The State

In an age of unprecedented possibilities for social communication and human connectedness, it is almost impossible to image anyone leaving this world without a single person to belong to. Not a family member, not an old friend, not even a familiar neighbor. But, as sad as this predicament may seem, it happens- and it happens often. Often enough, in fact, that here in Los Angeles, the County holds a monthly auction to sell the unclaimed possessions of the deceased.

How are the deceased person’s possessions declared as “unclaimed”? Because the person who died had no known living relatives and no estate plan could be found. (This means that the County worker sent to search the deceased’s residence did not find a will and that no acquaintances of the deceased had a copy of a will or knew where it was kept.) Also, the deceased may have left a will that named heirs who could not be located or who are deceased themselves.

So, what happens to the person who dies without an estate plan or whose heirs cannot be found? First, the County will take the body and, after a certain amount of time, complete the burial or cremation. It (the County) will store the person’s worldly possessions of value in a designated warehouse for a period of time and wait for heirs to make a claim on the possessions. The County will also take control of the real property of the deceased. If heirs surface, the property will go to them, unless the heirs get into a dispute, in which case the County will continue to hold the property until the courts resolve the dispute. If no heir surfaces, the County will sell the property and/or possessions at an auction, recover the costs the County has incurred, and award all remaining assets to the State of California.

To think, someone toils their whole life to acquire property and things of value and then turns them all over to the State of California by default. Surely an acquaintance or a worthy charity would seem a better recipient. It’s almost like playing a great game of ball, keeping the lead, winning the game, and then losing after the buzzer on a technicality.

Situations like this one can be avoided by making an estate plan, keeping it updated, and by telling loved ones where these important documents are located. The best place to keep estate planning documents and other important documents (such as bank statements, deeds, birth certificate, etc.) is a fireproof box easily accessible in the home. If a safe deposit box at a bank is used, be sure to leave a “paper trail” regarding the location of the safe deposit box and the key to open it. If these steps aren’t followed, the State of California could get another inheritance. © 2014 by Marlene S. Cooper.

Marlene Cooper Law