The term “escheat” describes a situation wherein a property owner dies without leaving a will and without legal heirs, so his property becomes the State’s property. For example, if a person buys a house but dies before transferring ownership to someone else in their will, that house becomes part of that person’s estate and is subject to probate. If nobody can be located who was supposed to receive the house, it goes back to the State.
“Escheat” is derived from Old French and Latin roots, meaning “to fall back.” Real estate law describes the transfer of a person’s property away from her heirs when said heirs cannot be located after a certain amount of time. When someone dies without a will (intestate decedent), her estate is divided up by state law, and the property to the heirs is escheated.
Escheat in real estate
In real estate law, escheat carries no such legal definition; instead, it describes a situation in which a person dies and leaves her property to someone other than her heirs because that property has not been handed over to her/his heirs after a certain period. For example, suppose someone leaves money in a bank account and never tells anyone about it, and does not use the money at any point during his lifetime. In that case, state law will eventually hold the Bank accountable for handing over that property to its rightful heirs. This can also refer to other kinds of property, including cars.
Conditions when escheat law apply
The following conditions shall be considered as causing an abandonment of any right, title, or interest in the property, and the property itself shall escheat to the State:
- If someone dies with a will (testate decedent), their property goes through probate, which means they go through court proceedings before being transferred to their rightful heirs. Suppose someone dies intestate, his property escheats to the State of New York. Heirs can avoid having the property go through probate by properly transferring their loved ones’ property while still alive.
- If an heir cannot be found after a certain amount of time has passed, the State may use the money to cover any unpaid tax bills of the decedent, or it may simply keep the funds. If an heir finds out about a decedent’s cash after the State has taken possession of it for escheat, that money will be returned to him if he can prove that he is entitled to it.
- In legal terms, “escheat” can also refer to real estate. It describes a situation in which the property of a person who has died without a will goes not to his heirs but back to the State because no one came forward with a valid claim within a set amount of time.
- When all persons entitled to that have died leaving no known heirs.
- When the owner thereof has disappeared under unknown circumstances so that his actual presence cannot be ascertained in the manner provided by law.
- When the owner thereof is unknown, or his whereabouts cannot be determined after a diligent search made under the provisions of this Act, and three years have elapsed since his disappearance.
How does property become unclaimed?
The definition of escheat differs slightly among the states, but it essentially refers to the seizure of money or property by the State for lack of an identifiable legal owner. Generally speaking, unclaimed or abandoned property is escheated to the government after a certain period if there has been no contact between the rightful owner and his assets.
Unclaimed property consists of several categories, including utility deposits, un-cashed money orders, uncashed royalty checks, and cashiers checks. Additionally, stocks registered in the name of decedents (or their estates) or abandoned safe deposit boxes can also be escheated to the State. For example, if you own stock registered in your deceased mother’s name, that stock may be considered unclaimed property.
The time after which an asset is considered abandoned depends on the State of residence. For example, according to FindLaw, it is three years in some states, while in others, it is seven. Certain types of unclaimed property are considered abandoned after a more extended period. For example, in some states, unclaimed pensions are escheated to the State 20 years after being declared left, which is why it is essential to check your pension account at least once every few years. In many cases, you can also find out if any of your property has been escheated by checking with your State’s Department of Unclaimed Property.
Escheat laws in California
Please find a qualified attorney for your specific situation. This section is meant to give general information, not intended as legal advice.
The doctrine of escheat was created as a feudal law to avoid any breakdown in society by providing a safety net for those who might not be able to provide for themselves, i.e., children or others without means. The purpose of the law, as it relates to feudalism and inheritance, was to ensure that no family would be left without a source of income.
If you own real property in California and there is no known living heir, you will need to file an Affidavit of Heirship with the Superior Court in the county where the property is located. Suppose you live in California but own real property outside of the State. In that case, you will need to file an Affidavit of Heirship with each county (where your property is located) where you hold an ownership interest. The filing fees range from $30 to $50, depending on the county where you are filing. The filing fees are paid to the Superior Court of California, where the land is located.
Suppose you live in California but own real property outside of the State. In that case, you will need to file an Affidavit of Heirship with each county (where your property is located) where you hold an ownership interest. To find out which Superior Court you need to file your document, contact the County Clerk’s Office in the county where you own real property or visit www.superiorcourt.ca.gov/locations.htm.
- Escheated checks what are they?
Escheated checks are checks that expire without being claimed. Payroll checks and traveler’s checks are examples of escheated checks. It’s possible that a vendor, employee, or customer won’t receive or remember a check you sent them. In this case, the check is not cashed
- Can you purchase escheated assets?
If the right buyer comes along, the unclaimed property can be a great deal, offering low costs and a chance to fix up a structure they own permanently. However, while purchasing an unclaimed or deserted property can be a good investment, it can also be a tricky and time-consuming process.
- Escheatment fee What does it mean?
In the case of an abandoned account and funds sent to the State, an ‘Escheat Fee’ is charged to the customer’s account. Essentially, this fee compensates the Bank for the administration costs of the escheat process.