Chicago man secretly leaves behind 'life-changing' $11M estate for 119 relatives

It’s unclear how Joseph Stancak quietly accumulated so much wealth, Illinois officials say

An 87-year-old Chicago man who died just before Christmas in 2016 has left behind $11 million in his estate for his family in what Illinois officials are describing as the "largest returned unclaimed property dollar amount in the nation’s history." 

Most of Joseph Stancak's 119 heirs live in Poland – where his parents were born – and Slovakia, according to the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer. It’s unclear how the Chicagoan accumulated so much wealth so quietly, they added. 

"This is a life-changing amount of money," Treasurer Michael Frerichs said in a statement. "I only wish we knew more about Mr. Stancak." 

Officials say Stancak, who was born in Chicago in August 1929, owned a boat named "Easy" and last lived on a house in South Troy Street, where he was found dead of natural causes on Dec. 23, 2016. 



Stancak, who officials say was born in Chicago, last lived in a home on South Troy Street. (Scott Olson/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"His parents were born in Poland and married at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Passaic, New Jersey, on Nov 27, 1909. They had seven children – Joseph, Mary, Paul, Anna, John, Helen and Frances," the Treasurer’s Office says. "Only Anna and John married. Neither Joseph nor any of his siblings had children. Each passed away before Joseph." 

The office also said because of the lack of children, the "Stancak estate had to identify family through his parents – essentially going up the family tree before going back down – and the majority of these heirs reside in Poland and nearby Slovakia.  

"A few relatives are in the United States, including New Jersey, New York and Minnesota. Seven are in Chicago or nearby suburban communities," it added. 

Officials say beginning in 2019, a "variety of investments began to be turned over to the treasurer’s office as unclaimed property; such investments typically are surrendered if the owner has not had contact in three years and the investment firm is unable to locate the owner." 

Stancak heirs

Most of Stancak's 119 heirs live in Poland and Slovakia, according to the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer. (iStock / iStock)


Attorney Kenneth Piercy, who is the administrator of the estate, said in a statement that "it is a great privilege to be able to assist the heirs in collecting their rightful inheritance." 

Illinois says the previous highest unpaid property claim was $8.1 million to a suburban manufacturer of auto parts in 2012.