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In the proceedings of a claim of escheat, the state's burden is met when, in addition to proof of the actual death, nonmarriage, and intestacy of the propositus, it has been shown that after diligent search and inquiry the state has been unable to find that he left ascertainable heirs. When the state has shown these things it has established prima facie the escheat of the property. The burden is then upon a particular claimant to prove by the ordinary rules and competent evidence that he is in fact the next of kin.
Numerous persons filed claims on the estate of a decedent who had died intestate. The probate court found that no claimant was entitled to the decedent's estate and ordered it to be escheated to petitioner state. The lower appeals court found that respondent claimants had established their status as relatives of the decedent. It reversed the ruling and remanded the case to the probate court to order distribution of the estate to respondents.
Was the State’s contention that its duty is performed when it shows that, after diligent search and inquiry, no person or persons "entitled to the property" can be found, and that, thereafter, the burden is upon the claimants to prove their particular relationship to the decedent as the next of kin who are entitled, under the statute of descent and distribution, to his estate, meritorious?
The Florida supreme court quashed the lower appeals court's decision. The court disagreed with respondents' argument that the escheat statute was to be liberally construed in their favor and against the state. Instead, the court agreed with petitioner that after the court had found no person or persons entitled to the property, the burden was upon respondents to prove their particular relationship to the decedent as the next of kin who were entitled, under the statute of descent and distribution, to his estate. The court found that all claimants, including respondents, failed to carry their burden of showing entitlement to the decedent's estate. The court remanded the case with instructions to affirm the probate court's decision.