Escheat is a legal doctrine that requires real property to be transferred from a property owner to the state upon the owner’s death when there are no legal heirs. Not having a will when one dies, is known as dying intestate. This occurs when a property owner does not designate beneficiaries in his or her will.
The law of escheat states that all property must have a valid owner and in the event a private party has no claim to a property, the property will go to the state or other government entity. Each state and jurisdiction have different laws regulating the legal concept of escheat, however the basic provision is that unclaimed property without a valid private owner will go to the government.
The property becomes the property of the state within two years after the owner’s death. However, potential heirs have up to five years after the owner’s death to come forward and claim the property.
Escheat is Revocable
The legal concept of escheat states that if property is not claimed by a party or does not have a legal heir the state will be entitled to the property. While the property goes to the possession of the government, an unnamed heir can reclaim the property if they can prove they are a valid heir. This means escheat is revocable.
The definition of a rightful heir depends on how each specific state defines a rightful heir. Each state is different and qualifications to claim property vary.
Assuming an heir claims the property, the state has the authority to reclaim the property of the heir is deemed incompetent. Escheat might occur when the will is defective or has confusing clauses that conflict with one another or when the heir of a will dies and there is no second heir apparent indicated.
Unclaimed Assets and Escheat
Financial institutions such as banks and lenders that hold an interest in real property or bank accounts must make an effort to get in contact with account holders or heirs of clients of the lender or banks that die. This is to prevent the asset of a deceased party to go the state when it was likely intended to go to an heir.
Laws for lenders to contact heirs of a deceased party vary in each state, however the basic rule is that the lender or financial institution should contact the heir if they are aware of an heir as soon as they are aware of the deceased party’s death. While states vary on how they distribute assets of a deceased party, most states have online databases where the heir apparent can find information relating to the assets of a deceased party. This helps heirs locate the deceased party’s assets and claim it as their own.
Heirs must make an effort to find the intestate party’s assets as soon as possible. Assets without an heir that goes to the possession of the state are usually sold to fund the state government, therefore it is critical for the heir to find the asset and contact the proper authorities as soon as is possible to avoid the property being sold to another property at which point would be impossible to reclaim.
Transfer of Property to the Government or Heir Through Escheat
Escheat involves property being transferred to the government during the period in which the state or lender holding interest to an asset of a deceased party locates the heir of the deceased party. Locating the heir of the deceased party begins by finding the last address of the deceased party.