Don’t Let Estate Fraud Happen To You

In 2016, an unassuming man named Joseph Stancak was found dead at age 87 in his Chicago home. He was reclusive, had no children, and left $11 million in his bank account. He had no will, no surviving parents, and no surviving siblings, nieces, or nephews. 

Did Joseph Stancak Accumulate $11 Million?

It is unclear how Mr. Stancak got his wealth, but our guess would be that, as a child of the depression era, this man simply never spent his money. He lived in a small, unassuming home and repaired his lawn mower for decades instead of replacing it. Mr. Stancak left behind so much money that Chicago attorney Kenneth Piercy decided to petition the probate court to serve as the estate administrator. He then proceeded to comb through genealogical records to identify 191 living relatives of the deceased. 

Surprise Inheritance? Yes, Please!

Although a great deal of money would naturally be lost from the estate through taxes, fees, and probate costs, Joseph Stancak was still going to leave 191 unsuspecting persons from several different countries, including Poland and Slovakia, with a large surprise inheritance, around $60,000 each. Then came the twist: before the payments could be issued by the court, a petition was filed to the probate court to submit a long-lost will for Joseph Stancak 

The Long Lost Will of Joseph Stancak 

Seven years after Stancak’s death, a New York organization came forward in June 2023 with a will claiming that the entire estate was left to a charity, Smart Kids Child Care Inc. Is this a likely story, that a reclusive man from Chicago would leave his wealth to a child care charity in New York? Is it reasonable to believe that he would have traveled to New York to sign paperwork? Is this document legitimate or fraudulent? 

This will be for the courts to decide. The lawyer who is supposed to have created the will died in a plane crash. How this case will turn out is up in the air, but in the meantime, if any of Stancak’s relatives have already begun to spend the money that they were assured would be paid to them shortly, they may now be in a very bad financial situation. 

Takeaway: Estate Planning Prevents Fraud

We believe that this long-lost will is most likely fraudulent. Maybe Joseph Stancak, knowing that he had no close relatives that he desired to give his wealth to, simply didn’t care what happened to the $11 million in his bank account. Maybe he would have cared had he realized that his hard earned money may now end up in the hands of a scam artist. 

Regardless of the size of your bank account, an estate plan gives you the opportunity to decide for yourself who gets your assets after your passing, and can help ensure that your legacy doesn’t end up in the hands of a criminal. If you haven’t already done your planning, contact an experienced estate planning attorney today. 

To listen to our full podcast about Joseph Stancak, click here.