“He was a very smart man but he died like an idiot,” is the frank and harsh assessment made by Paul Skurka concerning his friend and fellow Holocaust survivor, Roman Blum, who died last year at the age of 97 without a will. Blum had no known heirs and no surviving members. Blum’s estate is valued at almost $40 million. It is the largest unclaimed estate in New York State history, according to the state comptroller’s office. The public administrator handling the case has hired a genealogist to search for relatives. If none are identified, the money will pass to New York State.
Mason D. Corn, his accountant and friend for 30 years told the New York Times, “I spoke to Roman many times before he passed away, and he knew what to do, how to name beneficiaries.” Julie Satow, “He Left a Fortune, To No One, N.Y. Times, Apr. 28, 2013, MB. P. 1. “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.’ But by then it was too late. We came this close, but we missed the boat.”
According to the N.Y. Times, Blum’s funeral was attended by a small number of mourners, most of them elderly fellow survivors or children of survivors.
In her article, Satow provides an interesting description of Mr. Blum’s early years in the U.S.:
In 1949, the Blums came to New York and settled in Forest Hills, in Queens. There, they joined a tightknit community of survivors, many of whom they knew from the Zeilsheim camp.
“They all lived the same type of lifestyle, going to the bungalow colonies together, the Catskills, everything was done as a group,” said Jack Shnay, a child of survivors who grew up in Forest Hills with the Blums. “Initially, they all lived in apartments in Rego Park; then they starting buying or building private homes.”
“Every weekend was a party,” said Charles Goldgrub, the child of survivors and Mr. Blum’s godson, who also grew up in Queens. “They had survived Hitler so they thought they would live forever.”
On weekends, the survivors would often gather to play high-stakes poker and drink plum brandy. They rarely discussed their wartime experiences, but sometimes, as a group and tipsy, they would grow emotional. Mr. Blum’s favorite tune was the 1968 single by Mary Hopkin, “Those Were The Days,” recalled Michael Pomeranc, a hotelier who grew up in Forest Hills and whose parents, also survivors, were close to the Blums. “He was always singing that song, and especially if he’d had a bit to drink, he’d try to get everyone to join in with the lyrics,” Mr. Pomeranc said.
Blum’s circumstances indicate that, given the opportunity, he could have identified charities that he found to be doing meaningful work. Many people who don’t have a will, don’t because they simply have never gotten around to addressing the matter. Local business professionals can generally identify competent estate planning lawyers. Modifications to wills may be made through “codicils.” Waiting to devise a plan for the distribution of assets may result in no plan at all.