After two years the estate of Roman Blum still has no official heir.
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In 1976, when the eccentric American billionaire Howard Hughes died he left no will or heir and so his estate was left in limbo for years. Some people famously came forward and claimed to have a handwritten will entitling them to shares in the estate. But the courts found that will invalid and the Hughes estate was eventually divided among his many cousins.
Now New York City is experiencing its own version of the Hughes estate scandal, albeit for much less money.
Since his death in January, 2012 at the age of 97, the future of real estate mogul Roman Blum’s $40 million fortune has been in doubt. His wife died before him and he had no children and no official heir.
When Blum died he left no will and had no known children, so under New York law his estate went to New York City’s Department of Finance. The money is being held there for three years while authorities search for a legal heir. Any such inheritor would have such a distant connection to Blum that they would probably be pleased to find out about his death as it led to their getting $40 million. The law, for this reason, calls such people “laughing heirs.”
If no beneficiary is found, the New York State Comptroller will divide the $40 million between the State and the City. Should this happen, New York will collect the largest unclaimed estate in the State’s history.
Blum was a Holocaust survivor from Poland who lost his first wife and children in the Holocaust. He came to the US in 1949 and settled in Forrest Hills, Queens. It was there that he became a success in the home building business.
The opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the 1950s, which links Brooklyn and Staten Island, helped Blum’s business grow as he acquired cheap property in neighborhoods like Eltingville, Huguenot and Manor Heights that became more valuable.
Blum, according to friends, liked to flaunt his wealth and was even described as living the lifestyle of an American gangster. He had many affairs with different women who were always seen at his side in public.
This is why rumors of illegitimate children abound. Under the law, and in the absence of a will, such a child could claim the estate if he can prove to be Blum’s.
Now a new twist has transpired in the fate of the Blum estate. Mr. Blum was rumored to have had a lover who he may have even married before World War II. She was Helen Pietrucha, whom Blum met in Warsaw in 1938. The couple was separated by the war.
Pietrucha reportedly had a miscarriage, and Blum failed to find her after the war. In the 1970s, he learned that Pietrucha had moved to Australia and married someone else.
Teresa Musial, a longtime friend and caretaker of Pietrucha, claims that Blum wrote Pietrucha a letter in 1987 that included a will in which he wrote, “I give all my estate after my death to my beloved Helen Pietrucha.” But Blum did not tell anyone about it and the two witnesses listed on the document are both deceased. Petrucha died herself in 1999.
Musial filed that will with the Staten Island Surrogate’s Court last week, which will now decide the fate of the $40 million fortune. But even if that will is upheld, it is not clear if the estate of a woman who died 13 years before Blum is eligible to receive the money.
Photos: Collection of Charles Goldgrub