What Happens When You Do Not Leave behind a Will or Lawful Heirs?

Illinois estate planning attorneys, lawful heirs, personal estate, unclaimed personal property, inheritanceWhen a person dies intestate (without a will), his or her property is distributed according to Illinois rules of descent and distribution. Depending on the family’s circumstances, the property might go the decedent’s spouse, children, parents, siblings, or other family members.

But what happens if a person dies intestate and has no known legal heirs, or has representatives who are incapable of inheriting under Illinois law? In that case, the person’s real and personal estate will escheat to the county in which he or she resided (or the county in which the property is located), which means the property will belong to that county.

Unclaimed Personal Property

When a decedent’s estate involves unclaimed personal property, the first step (as with a typical probate) is to pay off any debts and administrative costs. Next, the administrator of the estate will make a report to the circuit court that states his knowledge regarding the decedent’s heirship (i.e., that the decedent does not have any heirs). The court will direct the administrator to pay the balance of the decedent’s personal estate to the county treasurer. That payment will be specifically designated as an escheat fund, and the funding estate will be identified.

The county treasurer is required to maintain accurate records reflecting the escheat fund. If someone appears within 10 years after the decedent’s death claiming to be a lawful heir, he or she may file a petition in circuit court which will determine if the claimant is entitled to the money.

Unclaimed Real Estate

When a decedent’s real estate escheats to the county, the following is what will likely happen:

  1. The real estate might be sold to pay of the decedent’s debts;
  2. If the estate has not been sold within five years after the last owner’s death, the State’s Attorney of the county in which the real estate is located can file a complaint on behalf of the county in circuit court;
  3. The court will order anyone who might have a claim on the estate to make an appearance and show why the property should not be vested in the county;
  4. The court order will be published in the county (or a nearby county) newspaper for a specified period of time to give people an opportunity to know what is going on;
  5. Anyone who has an interest in the estate may appear in court and plead their case. The issue will go to trial to determine the lawful owner; and
  6. If no one makes an appearance arguing against vestment in the county, the court will order that the county is the lawful owner.

If a person (who was not part of the original proceeding) claiming an interest in the real estate appears within five years after the judgment was entered vesting title in the county, he or she may file a petition in the circuit court where the property is located. The court will divest the county of its title if it determines that the claimant is the lawful heir.

If you have a claim to property that has escheated to the county, contact one of our Illinois estate planning attorneys today. Furthermore, if you care about what happens to your estate after you die, then we suggest contacting one of attorneys to come up with an estate plan. We can assist those in the Naperville area.