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In addition to this page please see also: Collecting Assets
Many clients mistakenly think that if they die without a will, their money will go the State of Nevada. This is simply not true.
There is a very rare process called "escheat" in which if a person dies without a will and no spouse or relatives can be found, the money is turned over to the State of Nevada. That person's spouse or relatives then have six years to claim the money back from the State of Nevada. This process requires an attorney. The lawsuit to get the money back from the State of Nevada has to be filed in Carson City District Court, even if the person who died was a resident of Las Vegas. Obviously, if a person dies and his or her relatives don't know about the death, the person was a loner and estranged from his or her relatives. The escheat laws are discussed beginning at N.R.S. 154.010.
There are actually people, usually not lawyers, who call themselves "probate researchers" or "investigators" who study public records to see when money has escheated to the State of Nevada, or if money is held by the Unclaimed Property division of the Nevada Treasurer. They then use genealogy tools to track down a surviving relative and offer, for a fee to recover or disclose the escheated money.
But, not all money without an owner escheats to the State of Nevada. Some money will simply be turned over to the Nevada Treasurer's Unclaimed Property division. As long as the Unclaimed Property division thinks an owner may come forward, the money is available to be claimed. The procedure for claiming it varies. If the person died, a probate will be necessary to determine who gets the money. In that case you will need a lawyer to do the probate to get the money released by the Unclaimed Property division.
As a general rule, if a probate is done by the public administrator and heirs cannot be found easily, the money escheats to the state and is held by the controller's office and a lawsuit must be filed within six years by relatives. This situation usually comes about because the coroner is called out for a dead body and the coroner upon finding a dead body inspects the residence and secures all valuables. In this way the coroners is likely to come upon bank statements or cash and if there is no paperwork lying around showing who the relatives are the coroner may simply turn the property over to the public administrator who will probate the property, take a fee and then turn the rest over to the controller's office.
In contrast, if an insurance company sends out a check to its insured at the insured's last known address and it is returned, after a period of time the insurance company may simply send the money to the Unclaimed Property division of the Nevada Treasurer.
If a person dies without a will, the surviving spouse or any relative can start a probate proceeding to have the assets distributed. The rules for who gets what in that situation are described in my section: If You Die without a Will
In addition to the rare instance in which the entire estate "escheats" to the State of Nevada, there is another situation that occasionally comes up. If a person is given a specific amount of money in a will or is given a specific portion or percentage of the esate and that person cannot be found there are two possibilities. If the person can be shown to have died before the person who wrote the will, the gift to that person will become void or go to alternate people. But if the person cannot be found and it cannot be determined if the person is dead or alive, the gift to that person must eventually be turned over to the County Treasurer under N.R.S. 151.170.
Will you Need a Lawyer for Escheated or Unclaimed Property?
You will definitely need a lawyer if the money has escheated to the state and a lawsuit must be filed against the state. If the unclaimed property belongs to a dead person and you are an heir you will need a lawyer to do a probate to get the money released. For both uncontested probates and escheats we consider ourselves the low cost, high quality, discount lawyers and attorneys.
N.R.S. 120A.740 limits a finder's fee to 10% for locating abandoned property. Typically a probate researcher or investigator calls up a person and says, "I've located property you are entitled to; if you sign a contract for a fee to me, I will tell you where it is." Depending on circumstances (Is a probate necessary? Is a lawsuit in Carson City District Court necessary?) the person entitled to the property may or may not then need an attorney to get the property
There are reasons to write a will and reasons to sit down with an estate planning lawyer such as myself to discuss your estate plan whether accomplished through a will, joint accounts, payable on death instruments, or a trust. However, it is a myth that the state gets to take the person's money if they don't write a will.
The single easiest step you can do to make sure that if you die your bank accounts will go to your closest relatives is to make sure that one of those relatives has a list of all of your assets. Of course, next you should consider who you want to get what and consult with an attorney to make that will happen.