to Mr. Bayard
Paris , June 13, 1887. (Received June 27.)
Sir: In your dispatch No. 176, of December 1, 1886, you requested me to communicate to the Department the information in possession of this legation regarding the proper steps to be taken to discover the traces of unclaimed estates in France in which American citizens may be interested.
The experience of this legation in searching for estates of that class has not resulted in anything very satisfactory. There is no practical or easy method by which any one not already possessed of information concerning an estate opened in France can find out what he is interested in knowing.
In nearly all cases the liquidation of an estate devolves upon a notary. In some instances only a court of justice is called upon to give its sanction to the proceedings. Usually the intervention of a notary is necessary. This furnishes a means of getting upon the trace of an estate, which, though not entirely free from uncertainty, provides for the vast majority of cases. Unfortunately, in such cities as Paris it is by no means easy to find the notary charged with the liquidation of a particular estate. The course adopted by Mr. Kelly, who occasionally acts as counsel of this legation, has been to issue a circular letter to every notary [Page 302] of the city and department where the information is likely to be had, giving as nearly as possible the name and date of death of the deceased person, and asking which of them is or was charged with the liquidation of his estate.
In order that such a circular letter should have any result, it is important that the name be rightly given, that the date of death be at any rate approximately correct, and that the place of domicile or residence be accurate beyond question. The importance of this latter consists in the fact that as it is at this place of domicile or residence that the notary is appointed, in case of application to the court the inquiry will remain unanswered if made at any other place than that where the notary was in fact appointed. Regard, however, must be had to the fact that if the deceased has had several residences, he may have made his will or had it deposited with a notary other than the one of the place where he died, and in that case this notary remains charged with the liquidation of the estate.
When there is no real estate, the heirs or next of kin can divide the estate between them without judicial or notarial proceedings.
If nobody claims an estate, a curator is appointed by a court of first resort, but during the period of prescription the state keeps the property in trust for those who are entitled thereto, so that any party showing title within that period can recover the property from the state.
The department to which application should be made in that case is the department of justice, through which notices are published in the official journal, giving, with reference to each unclaimed estate, names and dates.
The period of prescription with reference to unclaimed estates is thirty years from the date of decease. This period is therefore sufficient to bar the title of any claimant, unless it can be shown that only a provisional liquidation has been made, or that some irregularity in the liquidation can be proved. In such cases the claimant might plead that, the liquidation having been only provisional, the statute of limitation does not apply to him.
In conclusion, it appears from the foregoing that the proper course for an American claimant to take in order to get information about the estate of a relative deceased in France is for him to request one of the American lawyers practicing in Paris, or any business man, to address a circular letter to every notary of the place where he thinks his relative had a domicile or residence, asking for the desired information.
I have, etc.,