Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Lost + Found: Happy Unclaimed Property Day and Kentucky & California Questions

Kentucky State Treasurer Defends His Post -- Kentucky.com has an article about Kentucky Treasurer Todd Hollenbach's defense of the position of State Treasurer.  Although term limits prevent Hollenbach from running again, a according to Kentucky.com some candidates for the position of State Treasurer seek to abolish the office - arguing that the various tasks can be handled by other government departments.

California Legislative Analysts' Office: California Can Do More to Return Unclaimed Property -- The LA Times is reporting on a release by the California Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) noting a potential conflict between the California Controller's Office's obligation to return unclaimed money to California citizens, and the revenue generated by the more than $400 million in revenue that unclaimed funds contribute to the state budget.

February 18 Was Unclaimed Property Day in South Carolina -- According to WMBF, February 18 was declared "Unclaimed Property Day" in South Carolina by that state's General Assembly and State Treasurer Curtis Loftis.  To be your own Santa in South Carolina, you can check the Treasury;s "Palmetto Payback" program here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On Second Thought, Never Mind -- NJ Repeals Gift Card Data Requirement


Perhaps we can now tie a bow on the long-running New Jersey gift card saga.  First, a brief refresher:

In 2012, Governor Christie signed Senate Bill 1928 into law, which revised New Jersey's 2010 gift card legislation.  Briefly, the bill extended the dormancy period for gift cards from 2 years to 5 years, and delayed implementation of a requirement that retailers obtain zip code information at the point of sale for 4 years.  While many gift card issuers applauded the amendments, not everyone was happy.  In particular,  the some holders and gift card issuers favored legislation that would remove gift cards from the New Jersey unclaimed property act entirely or, at least, to eliminate the zip code collection requirement.  As a NJ BIZ article recounts, however, repealing legislation got watered down on the State House floor. 

After more than 2 years of legislative wrangling, the issuer and holder communities got (at least part of) what they were looking for.  On February 5, Governor Christie signed Senate Bill 2235 into law.  The law eliminates the provision of the New Jersey Unclaimed Property Act previously scheduled to come into force in 2016, requiring card sellers to obtain zip code information at the point of sale.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Delaware Adopts Some Unclaimed Property Task Force Recommendations

At the start of the year, we noted that the Delaware Unclaimed Property Task Force issued a report suggesting certain reforms to the state's unclaimed property practices and procedures.  Unfortunately, many of the high-profile recommendations (e.g., limiting lookback periods, implementing a new VDA program, implementing a statute of limitations) did not make it through the legislative process.  Instead, the Delaware legislature recently passed Senate Bill 11 (as amended) which implements some far more modest changes to the state's rules.  In particular, the new law provides that the Department of Finance can not give more than 50% of its outside audits to the same auditing Firm, sets forth a 2 year "cooling off" period before former unclaimed property staff can join auditing firms, and makes some minor changes to the state's administrative appeal process.

While these are all positive developments, they likely fall short of what the holder community was looking for.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Note to States: The DMF is Not Infallible

Since the widespread audits of life insurance companies' unclaimed property compliance became public knowledge in 2011, there has been copious ink spilled on discussion regarding the Social Security Death Master File.  The macabre-sounding index is not the central plot point of a horror movie, it is a database file maintained by the Social Security Administration that tracks deaths reported to the SSA.  That information, in turn, is used for a number of purposes by government agencies and private industry. 

In more recent years, the DMF has also become a new (if controversial) tool of unclaimed property auditors and states seeking to recover property that does not otherwise meet the black-letter presumption of abandonment set forth in state unclaimed property laws.  (The propriety of such a practice is a topic for another day).  At a minimum, however, Fox has an article that proves that resort to the DMF is not panacea for the states or holders. According to Fox, a 94 year old Ohio man is being stopped from filing his taxes because the IRS thinks he's dead.  The culprit?  According to the article, the reason that the IRS refused to accept the return "was because the filer was dead according to the Social Security Administration."

While similar errors can likewise happen with holder records, the article is a reminder that no test or tool is infallible, and generalizations made by auditors and states during the audit process are just that -- generalizations that must always be subject to rebuttal.   

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unclaimed Property Laws Even Trip Up Government Entities

Private companies are not the only ones with the obligation to comply with unclaimed property laws.  In many states, the escheat laws also apply to state, municipal, and local government entities.  For example, under the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act of 1995, property held by a "court, government, governmental subdivision, agency, or instrumentality" is escheatable 1 year "after the property becomes distributable."  (Section 2(a)(11)).  Just like private entity holders, government entities have an obligation to report and remit unclaimed property to the appropriate state agency, and, just like private entities, government organizations can be audited.

According to an article in the Albany Times-Union, one recent audit by the New York State Comptroller's Office of Columbia County, New York discovered nearly $50,000 in unclaimed property that should have been, but was not, reported and remitted to the state.  According to the article, most of the property came from mortgage foreclosure proceeds, abandoned bail funds, and other court deposits.  This is not an isolated incident.  A few years ago, we mentioned a California grand jury who made similar findings of noncompliance relating to several municipalities in California.  Similarly, a review of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office uncovered up to $50 million that should have been reported to the state.

Both private companies and government agencies need to ensure that they have appropriate policies and procedures in place relating to unclaimed property.  More importantly, they need to make sure that those policies are followed.