The New York Times ran a fascinating article earlier this week about a Holocaust survivor turned real estate mogul who appears to have died without a will and without any known blood relatives. When he passed away in January 2012, Roman Blum left behind an estate estimated to be worth approximately $40 million. Efforts to find a will or a relative eligible to receive the estate under New York’s intestacy laws have, thus far, been unsuccessful. The likely result:

… if investigators fail to find a will or surviving kin, whatever money is remaining from Mr. Blum’s estate will be passed to the city’s Department of Finance. If, after three years, no one comes forward, the money would go to the state comptroller’s office of unclaimed funds, which has $12 billion in its accounts dating to 1943. That office keeps a portion of the estate and transfers a portion to the state’s general fund. If an heir comes forward, the entire amount is returned.

Friends of Mr. Blum’s continue to hold out hope that he “had siblings back in Poland with whom he was not in contact or that, if he had had a child before the war, some distant relations are still living in Europe.”

This raises some interesting philosophical questions about whether it really would be better for a long lost relative that Mr. Blum may not have even known about to suddenly have tens of millions of dollars dropped into his or her lap as opposed to having the money go to the state of New York, a perennially financially-strapped entity that, among other things, provides services to low-income populations. Regardless of your opinion about that, however, it’s unlikely that anyone would describe this as their ideal outcome. Although he didn’t have any family, Mr. Blum almost certainly had some favorite charitable causes and people in his life that he would have liked to provide for, and who would have benefitted mightily, had he had gotten around to it. Meanwhile, his estate seems destined to take the maximum hit with regard to taxes, fees, and costs associated with its administration.

While most of us don’t have $40 million to give away, this story still serves as a valuable reminder about the complications that we can create by failing to take steps to create a plan for what to do with our stuff after we die. When I was in litigation, I frequently found that the hardest cases were the ones with the smallest amounts at issue. That can be true in estate administration too. A good estate plan is frequently an investment worth making.