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Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Sun-Times
21 Oct 2023
https://chicago.suntimes.com/authors/mitch-dudek


NextImg:SW Side recluse’s record-setting $11 million unclaimed estate thrown into chaos by newly surfaced will

There’s a twist in the mysterious case of the late Joseph Stancak — a frugal, secretly wealthy Southwest Side recluse and his record-setting unclaimed estate, valued at $11 million.

A will has surfaced in Cook County probate court that has thrown a wrench into the gears of the inheritance process, at least temporarily, putting a hold on payouts to more than 119 distant relatives around the globe.

It’s another strange turn in the strange and mysterious life of Joe Stancak,

For one thing, it’s unclear what Stancak did for a living or how he accumulated his wealth. Neighbors thought maybe he was an electrician or an electrical engineer. They’d occasionally see him tinkering with his old car or a broken lawn mower outside the modest bungalow in Gage Park where he lived.

Then, in December 2016, he died at 87, leaving no will and no immediate family — but $11 million in the bank. That made it the largest unclaimed estate in the nation’s history. 

A search turned up more than 119 distant relatives around the world, and checks divvying up Stancak’s fortune were being prepared to be sent to them.

That is until a court petition filed in June asked the judge overseeing Stancak’s probate case to accept a newly turned-up will. That prompted Cook County Judge Daniel O. Tiernan to put any inheritance payouts on hold until the legitimacy of the will is sorted out. 

And there’s a lot of sorting to be done.

The document presented as his will — dated Aug. 19, 2015 — says Stancak left his entire estate to Smart Kids Child Care Inc. and that company’s president, Asad Mahmood.

The court filing says that only two copies of the will were produced: One was to be kept by Smart Kids Child Care Inc., and one went to the lawyer who drafted the will, John Alleman. 

The purported will had Stancak assigning Alleman the task of notifying Mahmood when he died — and describing himself this way: “I am a recluse individual in the state of Chicago, Illinois.”

But Alleman died in a plane crash months after Stancak supposedly signed the document.

And the copy of the will that went to Alleman, a personal injury attorney from Carbondale, hasn’t been located. 

Ken Piercey, who was appointed last year by Tiernan to be the independent administrator of Stancak’s estate and to ensure that the money goes to the right people, says he is “highly suspicious” of the authenticity of the will and is trying to get the will thrown out.

The “poorly drafted” will was “found” only after the case made international headlines — and seven years after Stancak died, he points out in court filings.

Piercey raises the possibility that Alleman’s copy of the will hasn’t been found because “it was never held by him in the first place as the purported will is a fraud upon this estate and this court.”

The missing copy is reason enough for Judge Tiernan to reject the will, according to Piercey, who wants Tiernan to at least give him time to investigate and provide his findings before the judge decides whether to accept the will as legitimate. 

Gregory Markwell, an attorney representing Smart Kids Childcare, argues in court filings that the will can be revoked only if a copy that went to Stancak was lost it. But Stancak apparently never possessed a copy, and the law doesn’t extend to his attorney losing one, according to Markwell. 

Piercey says Stancak had zero connection to Smart Kids Childcare.

Markwell disputes that in court filings without elaborating didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Efforts to reach Mahmood were unsuccessful.

In court filings, Piercey cast a wary eye on why a recluse from the Southwest Side would hire an attorney from southern Illinois and travel to New York to finalize the document, as is purported to have happened. 

Piercy also notes that Smart Kids Healthcare has no phone number or website and that another company is operating out of its listed address in the Bronx. 

He told the Chicago Sun-Times that Stancak’s signature on the will doesn’t appear to match previous signatures.

Joseph Stancak pictured in the 1943 Gage Park High School yearbook.

Joseph Stancak pictured in the 1943 Gage Park High School yearbook.

Ancestry.com

The home on South Troy Street in Gage Park where Joseph Stancak lived.

The home on South Troy Street in Gage Park where Joseph Stancak lived.

Mitch Dudek / Sun-Times

Tiernan has asked the lawyers to present their arguments Dec. 13 in his Daley Center courtroom.

And what’s been the response of the dozens of distant relatives whose inheritance checks are now on hold?

“It’s fair to say a lot of them are not happy,” Piercey says.