New York City may be a long way from Madison, both literally and figuratively, but the facts surrounding the death of one multimillionaire from Staten Island illustrate some truths about estate planning, and the failure to plan, that are nearly universal. The death of Roman Blum highlights some of the unintended consequences that sometimes result from failing to plan. In the case of Blum, a real estate developer with a $40 million estate, one such consequence may be having his entire estate go to an unlikely beneficiary: the State of New York.
Blum, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, married his wife, Eva, shortly after the end of World War II and emigrated to New York in 1949. Blum became an extremely successful real estate developer, building several hundred houses in Staten Island. The Blums had no children. The developer reputedly had multiple mistresses. "There were lots of women on the side. It was a way of life," Charles Goldgrub, Blum's godson, told the New York Times. However, no records indicated that Blum had illegitimate children. The couple eventually divorced and Eva died in 1992. Roman did not remarry.
According to Blum's long-time accountant, Mason D. Corn, he could not persuade Blum to act until his waning days. "Two weeks before he died, I had finally gotten him to sit down. He saw the end was coming. He was becoming mentally feeble. We agreed. I had to go away, and so he told me, 'O.K., when you come back I will do it.'" Blum died before Corn returned. Blum's friends speculated that his experiences during the war may have shaped his aversion to estate planning: coming so near to death during the Holocaust may have rendered him averse to contemplating his mortality, and his deep need for secrecy, also a product of those experiences, made him reticent to confide in a lawyer.
Blum left no known heirs. Even if Eva had survived him, she would have received nothing, since the couple was divorced. With Blum leaving no wife and no children, a search ensued for a blood relative. The administrator handling the case told the Times that his worldwide search had, to date, yielded no one. If the search comes up empty, the State of New York receives the developer's entire estate, the largest amount ever to escheat, or revert to the state. "He was a very smart man but he died like an idiot," Paul Skurka, a friend and fellow Holocaust survivor, told the Times.