Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs’ office made history this week when it returned $11 million to the estate of a man who died of natural causes just before Christmas in 2016.

It is the largest returned unclaimed property dollar amount in the nation’s history.

Most of Joseph Richard Stancak’s 119 heirs reside in Poland, where his parents were born, as well as Slovakia.

And little is known about how Stancak, who lived in Chicago, accumulated such wealth so quietly, although he did own a boat named “Easy.”

“This is a life-changing amount of money,” Frerichs said. “I only wish we knew more about Mr. Stancak.”

Unclaimed property refers to money or accounts within financial institutions or companies in which there has been no activity for several years. Unclaimed property includes forgotten bank accounts, unpaid life insurance benefits, the contents of safe deposit boxes and other items. Returning unclaimed property is a core function of the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office, no matter how long it takes.

Stancak was born in Chicago in August 1929. He last lived in a house on South Troy Street where he was found on Dec. 23, 2016. He was 87 years old.

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. Only Anna and John married. Neither Joseph nor any of his siblings had children. Each passed away before Joseph.

Because Stancak and his siblings never had 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.

Prior to Stancak, the highest paid unclaimed property claim in Illinois was $8.1 million to a suburban manufacturer of auto components in 2012. The largest claim paid to an individual was $5 million to a Cook County woman in 2013.