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Mahr v. State

Decided: January 30, 1951.


Francis, J.c.c. (temporarily J.s.c.).


This matter is before the court on an interpleader complaint. There is no dispute as to the facts and the parties have submitted the problems involved to the court for determination.

The plaintiff, as administrator of the estate of Anna Marie Mayer, deceased, filed his account in the Essex County Court. An order of approval thereof was entered which, among other things, directed that the balance remaining in the hands of said accountant, which now amounts to $3,379.75, be disposed of according to law.

The parties concede that since his appointment and down to the present time, the administrator has made diligent and adequate search for heirs or next of kin of the decedent, and that none has been found; further, that the Township of Cedar Grove, where the decedent lived and worked for many years in the Essex County Overbrook Hospital, knows of no heirs or next of kin; and that the decedent's marriage was annulled in this State.

In view of the fact that there are no known heirs or kindred capable of inheriting the residue of the estate, the administrator was subjected to two demands therefor, one by the State of New Jersey under the Escheat Act (R.S. 2:53-16) and the other by the Township of Cedar Grove under R.S. 3:5-9, the act governing the distribution of personal property.

In the face of these conflicting claims, the administrator filed his interpleader complaint asking the court to determine the merits of the respective claims and designate which of the two claimants is entitled to receive the fund.

Cedar Grove argues that interpleader will not lie here because the State has not prosecuted the proceedings in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court as prescribed by sections 21, 22, 23, and 24 of the Escheat Act, and obtained a judgment "declaring that the property described * * * has escheated to the State." (Sec. 22.) The contention is that, since section 23 provides that upon the filing of such judgment the "person having such property in their possession shall forthwith deliver the same to the Treasurer of the State of New Jersey," the right of the State, if any, is inchoate and not such as would permit either recognition thereof in this proceeding or a judgment that the State is entitled to the fund.

In the sections already adverted to, the Escheat Act ordains the procedure to be followed by the State in order to establish its claim. It appears that a petition (complaint) shall be filed in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court setting out that certain personal property has escheated to the State and that the defendant named has custody or possession of such personal property. The complaint in this type case should set forth that the "owner of such personal property has died intestate

without heirs or known kindred capable of inheriting the same and without leaving a surviving spouse." (Sec. 21.) And the complaint shall ask the court to enter a judgment escheating the property to the State.

After the filing of the petition (complaint), the person having possession of the property may be required by court order to furnish to the Attorney General or to his deputy appointed to prosecute the action, all information he has with relation to the last known address of any person having any interest in the personal property.

Upon the filing of the complaint, the court is required to make an order requiring the defendant to answer within a fixed time. This order must contain "such other directions as the court may deem appropriate for the speedy determination of the cause, the protection of the property, or for the disclosure of information pertinent to the prosecution of the cause." When an answer is filed, the court is directed to fix a time and place for hearing.

Thereafter, a notice "containing a summary of the order designating the time and place of hearing, as approved by the court, shall be published in a manner directed by the court and shall also be published once a week for three successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation designated by the court; * * *. Such notice shall direct that any person who may claim to be entitled to the personal property mentioned in the petition (complaint), or to any part thereof or interest therein, shall file with the court his claim in writing at least five days prior to the date fixed in the hearing."

It is further provided that:

"Any person claiming to be entitled to the personal property described in the petition (complaint), or to any part thereof, or to any interest therein, shall file his claim in the general form of an answer to the petition (complaint), which answer shall set forth in such detail as the court may require why the answering party contends that the property mentioned in the petition (complaint) should not escheat to the State and, if the answering party shall claim any right to or interest in said property, the nature thereof; and the court shall ...

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