What does escheat mean? Outside of the fact that cheat is in the word Escheat, I had no clue what the word meant until George Gordon Coughlin’s book titled Law for the Layman made it clear what the term escheat means.

Escheat is how the state handles the property of someone who has died in the event no heirs make a claim against the decedent’s estate. Put a little more simply, who gets the belongings of a dead person if no heirs or relatives enter a claim?

For most states, heirs or relatives have between 3 to 7 years to claim property from the decedent’s estate before the state takes ownership.

In North Carolina unclaimed property, rather than becoming the property of the state, becomes escheated to the University of North Carolina. Go Tar Heels! In Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Tennessee escheated property is given to the common school fund.