Thursday, December 29, 2011

Unclaimed Property News Roundup: From East to West

Delaware Raises Revenue Forecast - The State of Delaware's earnings continue to outperform, according to Delaware Online, in no small part due to the state's unclaimed property receipts.  According to the article, Delaware's estimates were boosted by, among other things, a $10 million collection from a single holder.  The article also contains an ominous note from the deputy finance secretary, who was quoted as saying that the scope of unclaimed property audits are "increasing."

Washington Securities Sale Measure Passes - Moving west:  a few weeks ago, we mentioned a Washington State proposal that would allow that state's Division of Revenue to immediately liquidate securities received as unclaimed property (under the previous law, the state had to wait 3 years).  According to the Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization, that measure has passed.

Northern Mariana Islands Pass Unclaimed Property Law -- Moving even further west, the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. Commonwealth in the South Pacific, has taken steps to pass an unclaimed property law..  According to the Saipan Tribune, the Commonwealth's legislature recently passed a law that "allows the government to have access to dormant and inactive bank accounts and unclaimed funds."  The bill is now pending with the Governor.

We will be taking off until next week.  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

WSJ Article on Unused Gift Cards

Gift cards are generally a big topic in the unclaimed property community, but especially so during the holidays.  According to an article in the Wall Street Journal there is approximately $41 billion (with a "b") in unspent gift card funds from 2005 to 2011.  The article also notes the states' claims for these funds under the unclaimed property laws as well as their use of the funds until the true owner makes a claim (which, of course, is hardly ever).




Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Biggest. Claim. Ever.

According to Good Morning America, (which, incidentally, has run a number of features on unclaimed property, see here, here, and here) is reporting that a Missouri resident is about to receive the largest unclaimed property payout ever - amounting to $6.1 million.  According to GMA's research, the $6.1 million might be the biggest unclaimed property owner payment in history. 

The obvious question you may be asking is how in the world did someone misplace $6.1 million?  Actually, they didn't.  According to the article, the funds represent stock that was reported to the state "generations" ago, and continued to grow. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Unclaimed Property News Roundup: More Life Insurance Disputes, Missouri Gift Card Reminder and UK "Heir Hunters"

Life Insurance Update - NAIC and NCOIL Disagree:  We continue the twists and turns regarding the state investigations into unclaimed life insurance proceeds.  This latest disagreement doesn't involve any insurers, but rather is a squabble between two government interests organizations.  According to an article in LifeHealthPro, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (the interest group representing state regulators) and the National Conference of Insurance Legislators (representing lawmakers) are the focus of a dispute concerning how to resolve the investigations.  If you are interested in more information regarding these investigations check out the article here.

MO State Treasurer Offers Holiday Tips Regarding Gift Cards:  Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel (no stranger to these pages) is telling Missouri residents to hold on to their expired gift cards.  According to KSDK.com, Zweifel is urging Missourians to check the state unclaimed property list for the value of expired or unused gift cards.  According to the article, Missouri returned over $100,000 in abandoned gift cards over the past year.

"My Supermodel Inheritance" -- Vincent Graff of Radio Times (UK) has a story based upon the BBC television program "Heir Hunters".  According to the story, which can be found here, a woman in England was located as the heir to the estate of a post-WWII fashion model.  The article also has some information on the UK's "bona vacantia" laws (which are similar to the unclaimed property laws of the states).  Perhaps more interesting, from an unclaimed property standpoint at least, is the "Heir Hunters" show itself which, according to the BBC website "follow[s] the work of heir hunters, probate detectives looking for distant relatives of people who have died without making a will."  No word on whether CSI:  Unclaimed Property Division is also in the works.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Breaking News: Michigan Offering Unclaimed Property Amnesty in For A Short Time

A few months ago, Michigan made sweeping amendments to its unclaimed property laws.  The new laws shortened the dormancy period for most property types from 5 years to 3 years.  In addition, Michigan moved from a fall reporting state to a  spring summer state.  This year's report is due on or before July 1 of each year for the 12 month period ending on the immediately preceding March 31.

Now that they have your attention, Michigan is now offering a limited time voluntary disclosure program for holders who have never reported unclaimed property (or have underreported unclaimed property) to the state.  Pursuant to the program, interested holders must enroll by January 31, 2012, and will have until July 1 to file a report for the current report year and the four previous report years.  In return, the state will agree to waive the interest and penalties that may otherwise be assessed for the late reporting or remittance of property.

If you are a Michigan-incorporated entity, do a lot of business in Michigan, or simply want to turn over some undelivered property to the state, you may wish to consider the Michigan VDA.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

ABC News: IRS Has Nearly 100,000 Unclaimed Refunds

Private corporations are not the only ones who wind up with uncashed checks.  According to an article on abcnews.com, the Internal Revenue Service is holding unclaimed refunds for nearly 100,000 taxpayers, totaling more than $150 million.  According to the IRS press release announcing the unclaimed refunds, the IRS recommends that taxpayers sign up for the direct deposit of refunds in order to reduce address discrepancies and other refund errors.

If you think you might be missing an IRS refund, you can check by visiting the "Where's My Refund" page on the IRS's website here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unclaimed Property News Roundup:

Big Badger State Reclaim -- Who says that unclaimed property can only be a modest amount of money?  According to the Chicago Tribune, one Wisconsin woman received nearly a quarter of a million dollars in unclaimed municipal bonds from the Wisconsin Department of Treasury.


Louisiana to Release Annual Unclaimed Property List -- According to NBC 33 News in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, State Treasurer John Kennedy will release the newest list of unclaimed property owners in the Pelican State

Kenyan Unclaimed Property Law Awaiting Presidential Approval -- According to The Standard of Nairobi, Kenya, that country's proposed Unclaimed Financial Assets Bill is awaiting sign off by Kenya's President.  As we noted earlier, the proposed law is very broad in scope and appears to be based upon the Uniform Unclaimed Property Acts in use in the United States.

Pennsylvania Luring Holiday Shoppers -- Fox 43 (Harrisburg, PA), is reporting that Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord is pitching the Pennsylvania Treasury's eBay site as a "convenient alternative" to the long lines and hassles of traditional retail stores.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A New Jersey Gift Card Update

Regular readers (Hi Mom!) know that we've been following the progress of New Jersey's recent gift card legislation from the State Assembly, to the Treasury Department, and, ultimately, to the courts.  When we last left our story, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit enjoined (in English, temporarily suspended) application of parts of the new law, pending a decision by that Court.  That case has been argued, and is currently under consideration by the court -- meaning that a decision can come at any time.  Of course, the timing of the ruling could be important because the holidays are a particularly busy time for gift card sellers.

According to a recent article in NJ Biz, the President of the NJ Retail Merchants Association (one of the plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit) has gone on record indicating that he does not expect the challenged gift card laws to be in force during the holiday shopping season.  (For detail as to which parts of the law were enjoined, see here).

In other news, some members of the New Jersey Assembly have a bill pending that would reverse all of the changes enacted as part of the 2010 gift card law.  Before anyone gets too excited, however, we note that the bill has been pending for more than a year.

We will continue to follow the Garden State saga.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Washington State Looks to Generate Revenue By Selling Others' Stocks

The Washington State Department of Revenue recently published a proposal to immediately convert securities to cash upon receipt by the DOR.  As the proposal indicates, the current law requires DOR to wait at least three years before selling stocks that are reported as unclaimed property.  The Department anticipates that it will incur $1.3 million in commissions and fee payments to sell the stocks in connection with this "revenue generating" activity.

Assuming that the stocks are sold at market value, how will this increase revenue (especially in light of the commissions apparently charged by DOR's stockbrokers)?  Well, while unclaimed securities are reported to the custody of the state, the state can't use those shares as general revenue (you can't build roads or schools with shares of stock).  By selling the stock immediately, the state is hoping to use the money immediately (while paying the sale price -- less fees -- to the owner).

This is an example of particularly owner-unfriendly regulation.  The proposed rule allows the state to immediately sell securities (given the current market, likely at a low price) and forces the holder to pay "administrative costs" to obtain the property.  Moreover, it is particularly inconsistent with the state's role as mere custodian (as opposed to title owner) of the property.  While states are (quite understandably) looking to generate more revenue and are aggressively enforcing unclaimed property laws to that end, they should not be changing the rules to the detriment of the rightful owner.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Examples of Unclaimed Property: Uncashed Checks, Dormant Accounts, Suitcases Full of Cash

Gone are the days when unclaimed property laws applied only to dormant bank accounts and unredeemed insurance policies.  Today's laws are increasingly broad, and apply to nearly every type of property you can imagine (and, by virtue of the catch-all "all other property" provision, even some types of property you can't imagine).

Nonetheless, there does not seem to be any provision of the Australian unclaimed property laws that expressly cover suitcases containing "roughly $1.28 million in $50 bills."  According to Yahoo's blog The Sideshow, that's exactly what someone left in a Sydney cafe on Tuesday.  Police are investigating.


Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers.  As well as a happy St. George's Day, Labor Thanksgiving Day, and Dan Državnosti elsewhere.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

New Quebec Unclaimed Property Act

While our focus here is generally on U.S. escheat laws, there is a whole developing world of unclaimed property regulation out there.  In Canada, for example, certain provinces have unclaimed property laws, while others do not.  One of the provinces that does is Quebec, which passed a new unclaimed property law this summer. 

The new law applies to a variety of property types, including
  • bank deposits,
  • checks (actually, cheques), 
  • securities, 
  • demutualization proceeds, 
  • trust property, 
  • property held in safe deposit boxes,
  • insurance proceeds,
  • pension funds, and
  • other property to be determined by regulation
Most of these items are subject to a 3 year dormancy period.  The new law also provides for audits and penalties for noncompliance.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Unclaimed Property News Roundup:

Illinois Launches "Operation Reunite" For Veterans -- According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford has commenced a new initiative to return medals and other military items to veterans.  According to the article, the Illinois Treasurer has over 200 military items, including 15 Purple Hearts, a Navy Cross, and other awards and artifacts.  For more information on Operation Reunite, check out the Treasurer's website.

Wisconsin Collects $20 Million --  According to the blog of the Wisconsin State Treasury, the Badger State raked in more than $20 million during the past reporting period.  Interestingly, the Treasury also produced this video to assist holders with the reporting process.

New Yorker Missing $1.7 Million -- Nina Pineda of Channel 7 "Eyewitness News" in New York City recently published an article (with video) about unclaimed property held by the New York State Office of Unclaimed Funds.  According to the article, the OUF is holding more than $1.7 million for one lucky New Yorker.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the last known address of that individual (who is not being disclosed) was in Manhattan.

Maine & ACS Present:  A History of Unclaimed Property Law -- About a month ago, the Maine State Treasury & ACS Unclaimed Property Clearinghouse hosted an Unclaimed Property Holder Seminar.  The slides that accompanied that presentation give a good concise history of the development of unclaimed property laws.  If you are interested in the history of unclaimed property law (and, really, who isn't?) you should check it out.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meet Your (New) Escheators - Unclaimed Property Related Election Results

Tuesday was election day.  While there were not many well publicized or nationally watched races this year, there were nonetheless some elections that will have an effect on unclaimed property administration. Specifically, two states -- Kentucky and Mississippi -- held elections for State Treasurer (which, in both states runs the unclaimed property office).

In Kentucky, incumbent Todd Hollenbach won reelection to another term.  If Mr. Hollenbach's name sounds familiar, it is because he was the named defendant in the lawsuit brought by American Express challenging Kentucky's decision to shorten the dormancy period for travelers checks to 7 years down from 15.

In Mississippi, Lynn Fitch was elected to be the next State Treasurer.

Louisiana was also originally slated to have an election for State Treasurer this year, but incumbent John Neely Kennedy was unopposed.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Unclaimed Property News Roundup

Some miscellaneous items while you're still basking in you post-fall reporting freedom:

Delaware Publishes Unclaimed Property Owner List -- On October 28, Delaware published its most recent list of unclaimed property being held by the state.  As we noted last year at this time, because of Delaware's interpretation of the priority rules of Texas v. New Jersey (in particular, that foreign-owned property held by Delaware incorporated entities is escheatable to Delaware) this is probably bigger news to large non-U.S. companies than it necessarily is for Delaware residents.

Oklahoma Publishes FY 2011 Reclaim Stats -- Oklahoma has recently published a chart showing the amounts it paid in FY 2011.  According to the information the state paid out amounts as little as $0.03 and at least one claim in excess of $1 million.  While total reclaim dollar amounts were not disclosed the unclaimed property department of the Sooner State apparently paid out on more than 12,000 claims in the past year.

Monday, November 7, 2011

New York Regulators Team Up to Investigate Unpaid Life Insurance Benefits & A Scorecard Update

According to an article in Friday's Wall Street Journal, the NY Attorney General's Office (the state's highest ranking law enforcement official) and the NY Comptroller's Office (the regulator responsible for administering the state's unclaimed property laws) are both investigating the Empire State's life insurance companies to determine whether death benefits are being paid on a timely basis.  As we mentioned in July, the controversy revolves around the insurers' use (or, more to the point, alleged non-use) of the macabre sounding "Social Security Death Index" to determine whether or not life insurance benefits have become payable.  Though state laws generally do not explicitly require the use of the SSN index, some regulators have complained that insurers use the SSN Index to stop paying annuities (i.e., products that pay out until death), but don't use that same information with regard to the payment of life insurance benefits (i.e., those products that pay out upon death).

As the Journal article points out, insurance regulators in New York sent a request letter to all insurance companies in the state asking them to check their policy lists against the Index.  According to the Journal, the regulators are considering making resort to the SSN index a permanent regulatory requirement.  The regulators have issued a press release concerning their joint investigation.

In separate (but related) news, the Rutland (VT) Herald is reporting that Vermont expects to get in excess of $500,000 from a settlement with a national life insurance company regarding the death benefit investigation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What Have We Learned?

Congratulations!  Another fall reporting cycle is completed.  For many (if not most) there was likely a mad dash at the finish to incorporate items from new or changed business units, new reporting and/or administrative procedures, and efforts to comply with updated or changed laws.  Everyone in the unclaimed property holder reporting business is certainly entitled to a rest.  (Though for those of you who work for states, your work is just beginning).

Now that you have a moment to breathe, it is also time to take stock of your process and consider how improvements can be made to streamline and/or improve the process for next year.  Perhaps in the rush to meet reporting deadlines, you had discussions with contacts in management, or the legal department, or risk management, who now have an idea (perhaps for the first time) of what you do for the company.  Since you are on the radar, now is the time to request whatever assistance you may need to make your process better.  Similarly, you may have recently learned some things about your company's business practices that have an impact on how unclaimed property is identified, tracked or reported.  Now is the time to put that knowledge to use and incorporate it into your procedures and best practices.

Enjoy some rest; then get back to work :)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Unclaimed Property News Roundup

Unclaimed Property Down Under -- The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is holding A$ 636 million in unclaimed funds arising from forgotten bank accounts, unpaid life insurance benefits, and dormant securities payments.  More information can be found on ASIC's website here.

Massachusetts Unclaimed Property Auction -- Boston.com is reporting that the Massachusetts Unclaimed Property Division is going to hold an unclaimed property auction on eBay to sell tangible property the Division has collected, primarily from unclaimed safe deposit boxes.  A similar auction last year raised nearly half a million dollars for the Commonwealth.  Among the items up for auction are a $25,000 diamond necklace and a "broken Harry Potter wristwatch."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Delaware Keeps AAA Credit Rating With Other People's Money

While the broader U.S. economy continues to ebb and flow, some are warning of another possible downgrade of the national credit rating.  Some other governments, however, are not having credit rating problems during these difficult times.

According to a press release on Marketwatch.com, Fitch Ratings assigned a AAA rating to Delaware's latest $275 million bond offering.  Among the factors that Fitch relied upon in making its determination to provide its highest rating was Delaware's revenue profile (that is, the sources of revenue brought in by the state, and the likelihood that those revenue streams would remain sufficient to discharge the state's bond obligations).  Given Delaware's status as a popular state of incorporation for domestic companies, its no surprise that unclaimed property revenue makes up an important slice of the First State's revenue mix.  As Fitch noted:
Delaware's revenue mix reflects its position as legal home of most U.S. corporations, with various fees and taxes as well as abandoned property revenue all linked to companies being legally domiciled in the state. Abandoned property typically accounts for 10% to 12% of general fund revenues though collections were a high 15% in fiscal 2010; this variable revenue stream has been negatively affected by the downturn in financial markets but the state's decision to shorten the dormancy period on held securities has resulted in an increase in these collections.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Better Business Bureau Warns of Unclaimed Property Scam (via LA Times)

The Money & Company blog of the Los Angeles Times recently posted a warning concerning online scams.  Along with a faux-Facebook contest with a one million dollar prize and some mortgage foreclosure chicanery, there is also one of the usual unclaimed property scams.  According to the article, the fraudsters are sending emails to recipients informing them that "millions" in unclaimed property are being held for their benefit.  The scammers then ask for bank account, credit card, SSN and other personal financial information.

We've said it before, but it bears repeating:  legitimate unclaimed property regulators will not contact you via email.  If someone contacts you claiming to have unclaimed property in your name, you needn't respond by sending an email to unrecognizable address, visiting a potentially false website, or calling an unidentified 1-800 number.  You can go to the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (www.naupa.org) and find claiming information for your appropriate state.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Even Hospitals Need An Unclaimed Property Checkup

Beckers Hospital Review has an article by Bob Herman entitled "5 Common Accounting Blunders Hospitals Can Avoid."  Though the article is intended for those in the healthcare field, much of the advice -- such as not letting credits accumulate or making sure to stay up to date on accounting guidelines -- are useful for nearly all companies.  The article also specifically mentions unclaimed property -- in the context of allowing uncashed checking to accumulate -- and warns of the expense and disruption attendant to unclaimed property audits.  Notably, the article also warns companies against allowing credit balances to accumulate.  Although that is presented in the context of making sure payment procedures and processes are accurate, accumulated accounts receivable credits are a favorite target of unclaimed property regulators in the audit context.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Check Is In (or for) the Mail

The Inspector General of the U.S. Post Office has an audit program to collect unclaimed funds held by state governments for the benefit of the postal service.  The purpose of the audit is to "to determine whether the postal service efficiently and effectively collects unclaimed funds held by state treasuries."  If the postal service is like most companies, the answer is probably not, but we wish them luck.  The audit description also contains some tips for postal service employees to prevent funds from going unclaimed.  They are good suggestions for any company:

1.  Deposit checks without delay
2.  Be responsive to refunds
3.  Respond to notices from holders of property
4.  Respond to requests for confirmation of account balances
5.  Instruct customers to make checks payable to "US Postal Service"

(On second thought, you might want to skip this last one unless you're the post office).


 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Unclaimed Property News Roundup

A few miscellaneous unclaimed property articles to start the week:

South Dakota Holding Nearly $5 Million in Unclaimed Lottery Winnings -- According to an article by Megan Luther in the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that state is currently holding more than $4.8 million in unclaimed lottery winnings.  According to the article, winners have 180 days to claim prizes after which time the money reverts to the state.

California Controller's Office Issues Quarterly Unclaimed Property Newsletter -- The Holder Outreach program of the California Unclaimed Property Division recently issued their Quarterly Holder Newsletter.  Among the topics covered in the newsletter are the state's procedures for assessing interest on late reported amounts, a reminder about due diligence, and the latest holder reunification stats.

Unclaimed Property Claim Activity Increases in Ohio -- According to the Associated Press, Ohio is reporting that nearly $15 million has been claimed from the Department of Unclaimed Funds to date, and increase of more than 35% over the same period in 2010. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Unclaimed Property Audit of Philadelphia Sheriff's Department Uncovers $50 Million

Back in February, we mentioned an investigation of unclaimed property held by the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office.  According to Philly.com, the Sheriff's Department had not filed an unclaimed property report with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since at least 2006, despite having reported and remitted approximately $5 million during the period from 2002-2005.  The majority of the unclaimed funds held by the Sheriff's office are excess proceeds from foreclosure sales and other auctions.  As anyone who has been following the economy knows, the amount of foreclosures has markedly increased since 2005, and accordingly, one would expect the Sheriff's office to have even more unclaimed property arising from foreclosure sales.

According to WHYY's Newsworks blog, the authorities have now completed a multi-month audit of unclaimed funds held by the Department, and have discovered approximately $50 million in unclaimed funds that should have been reported and remitted to the City and the Commonwealth for the benefit of the rightful owners.  No word on whether any civil or criminal charges will be filed in connection with the findings

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mini Escheat Departments, Part II - Unclaimed Child Support Payments

On Monday, we posted an entry about unclaimed property being held by government entities other than the state unclaimed property agencies -- in particular, municipal and county governments.  Following up on these "mini escheat departments," ABC's Good Morning America posted an online article about yet another source of unclaimed funds -- unclaimed child support payments.  In many places, a child support payor is required to make payments directly to a state or municipal agency.  As a result, if the receiver moves and does not notify the child support agency of a new address, the funds can go unclaimed. 

The GMA article has links to child support agencies in some states and major metro areas, as well as other information on how to claim these funds.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mini Escheat Departments at Lower Government Levels

Most unclaimed property professionals are aware that every state keeps a list of unclaimed property so that owners can claim their funds.  What is less well known is that certain other government entities (e.g., counties, cities, etc.) do likewise.  Generally, the items held by these agencies are (no surprise) money held by these agencies for the benefit of others.  For example, Orange County, California lists on its website, unclaimed estate and landlord sale proceeds held for the benefit of rightful owners.  The same with Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, San Diego County, California, Cuyahoga County, Ohio and hundreds of others.  So, if you are trying to undertake a comprehensive search for missing money, don't let your searches stop at the state.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Florida Unclaimed Property Action Nets More Than $1 Million for Public Schools

We have spent a few posts here talking about unclaimed property auctions.  And, to be honest, we've also spent some time in this space making fun of some of the items that are available for auction.  That being said, unclaimed property auctions do serve a very serious, and very useful, service.  For example, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Florida's recent unclaimed property auction raised over $1 million that will be used to fund local schools. In the current economy, and in light of the budget difficulties that many states face, every public dollar is important.

In the event you are a Missouri reader interested in unclaimed property auctions in the Show-Me-State, the Missouri Department of Treasury is holding an unclaimed property auction today in Columbia, MO.  Among the items available for auction is the autograph of the "Wizard of Oz." (this one, not this one).

Monday, October 3, 2011

$78 Million in Found Money Returned in Japan

We often post articles in this space about the efforts of governments (and sometimes private individuals) to reunite owners with their money.  Often, these efforts are mandated by law, and involve thousands of dollars.  That being the case, we were astounded by the ongoing efforts in Japan arising from that country's recent natural disasters.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Japanese firemen, police officers, rescuers, and private citizens have found, and returned, an astounding $78 million dollars in currency that was found in the wreckage caused by the earthquake and tsunami. In light of the more than 25,000 people who were lost as a result of this tragedy, most of the money will likely go unclaimed (in which case, according to the article, the money will become the property of the government).  Even so, in a time where we are often confronted by story after story of those who seek to capitalize on tragedy, the article provides a welcome reminder of the honesty and decency of many.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ohio AG Signals Potential End to Dispute Over Interest

Ohio citizens who have claimed abandoned property from the state in recent years may soon be closer to collecting interest on those amounts. 

In some jurisdictions, the state does not have to pay interest on unclaimed property claims, notwithstanding the fact that the state earns interest on the money while it has custody of the funds.  In 1991, for example, the Ohio Unclaimed Property Act was amended to provide that interest was no longer payable to owners claiming property to the state.  In 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the new law denying interest was unconstitutional.  In so doing, the court reasoned that noted that the Ohio Unclaimed Property Act was custodial in nature -- in other words, the state takes custody of, but not legal title to the funds.  The Ohio Supreme Court's 2009 decision, however, did not end the case.  The Supreme Court sent the case back down to the lower court for additional proceedings.

Some consumers have (understandably) gotten a little restless waiting for case to finally conclude.  All of this has put Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in a tough spot.  As Attorney General, Mr. DeWine is charged with representing both the interests of state agencies, as well as consumers.  Now, Jenn Strathman of ABC affiliate WEWS-5 (Cleveland) is reporting that the AG wants to settle the case.  Specifically, General DeWine told WEWS that he hoped the case is settled "fairly soon."

Why so much interest in interest?  According to the article, the Ohio Department of Commerce (which administers the unclaimed property program) estimated that the inerest payout will exceed $74 million.  If you think you are among those entitled to additional funds, more information can be found at the Department of Commerce's website here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Unclaimed Property Crime Blotter V - This Time, it's an Inside Job

Welcome to another installment of Escheatable's Unclaimed Property Crime Blotter.  This probably doesn't come as a surprise to most, but because the states are holding on to millions of dollars in unclaimed property on behalf of missing, deceased, unknown, or forgetful owners, some less than scrupulous people think that there is an opportunity to make some easy money.  Many file false claims.  Others take advantage of the relationships with others who have valid claims to make a buck.  Sometimes, it's (allegedly) an inside job:

According to Fox 23 of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a former employee of the State Treasurer's office is charged with stealing unclaimed property held by the state on at least three occasions.  According to the article, the accused conspired with others to make, process, and collect false claims paid out by the state's unclaimed property program.  A copy of the full indictment is available from the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Washington Sets Owner Reunification Records

According to a press release from the Washington Department of Revenue, that state's unclaimed property department paid out a record amount of claims (over 100,000) in Fiscal Year 2011.  According to the Department of Revenue, that record breaking performance was due "in part to a sharp increase in the number of businesses reporting unclaimed property to the state."  Regular readers may remember that just a few weeks ago, we mentioned that Nevada also broke its previous records for amounts remitted and claims paid.

To see if you or your company has funds that are being held by the State of Washington, you can visit the Department of Revenue website here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wisconsin State Treasury Taking Steps to Increase "Unclaimed Property Awareness"

According to a post on the blog of Wisconsin State Treasurer Kurt Schuller, the Treasury is undertaking various efforts to get Badger State holders "on board the compliance train."  In particular, the Unclaimed Property Unit has published the 2011 Holder Reporting Guide and has sent postcards to over 13,000 Wisconsin businesses.

Later this year, the Unclaimed Property Unit plans to post a variety of educational videos, and to host compliance webinars.  For more information or to express interest in these offerings, check out the Treasurer's blog or the Unclaimed Property Unit's homepage.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Meet Your Escheator: South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis M. Loftis, Jr.

Welcome to the second installment of Escheatable's "Meet Your Escheator" feature, where we provide interviews and commentary by state unclaimed property officials.  This time, we are thrilled to have South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis M. Loftis, Jr.  Treasurer Loftis took over South Carolina's "Palmetto Payback" unclaimed property program earlier this year and is also responsible for the state government's finances, as well as South Carolina's state 529 plans.  The Palmetto Payback website provides a wealth of information about the program, including FAQs for both owners and holders.  South Carolina has also embraced social media, providing information on Facebook, on Twitter (@TreasurerLoftis) and by participating in interviews with world-class unclaimed property blogs :)  We are grateful for the Treasurer's time and efforts to provide this information. 

1.   By way of introduction, can you give us an overview of your background prior to becoming State Treasurer?  Did you have any experience or involvement with unclaimed property and/or escheat laws prior to that time? 
Treasurer Loftis:  I spent 20 years in private business, owning and operating a pest control business. After retiring from operating the company (I still own a majority share) I dedicated myself to charity work, establishing the Saluda Charitable Foundation. I then went onto start my career in public service in 2007, serving as the  Director of The Office on Aging. I was able to reduce the organizational budget by 23%–allowing these funds to be re-directed to services for seniors. My private business experience is a blessing when it comes to knowing the rules and regulations that businesses must follow when dealing with customers' accounts. But I rely on the guidance and expertise of our Unclaimed Property staff to deal with the numerous issues surrounding Unclaimed Property. 
 2.  Can you give us background statistics on how much money South Carolina is holding? How about the number of claims per year?
Treasurer Loftis:  The Palmetto Payback program is holding 1.5 million accounts totaling nearly $300 million dollars. For fiscal year 2011, the program paid 30,932 claims, returning more than $12.6 million dollars to the rightful owners. For perspective, in fiscal year 2010, the program paid 13,629 claims.
3.  What error do you see holders making the most? What would you like them to improve?

Treasurer Loftis:  It is my goal to reunite as many owners as possible with their unclaimed funds. To do so effectively, we need as much information about the owner the holder has available. Not providing information like the last known address, social security number, date of birth, etc. not only makes it harder for us to locate the owner, but it makes it more difficult for us to verify ownership when claims are presented. 

4.  Does your office perform or participate in unclaimed property audits? If so, how do you select the companies that get audited?
Treasurer Loftis:  My office offers an informal voluntarily compliance program allowing us to work collaboratively with first time filers to assist them in coming into compliance. At the present time we do not have an internal audit staff. We issued an RFP for audit services several months ago and have awarded contracts to those auditors that met our requirements. We hope to start working them soon. 
5.  South Carolina, like other states, often auctions safe deposit box items that are remitted to the Treasury.  What is the strangest (or best) thing that your office has received as unclaimed property?
Treasurer Loftis: I can’t speak for past State Treasurers, but some of the most unique items we were able to return happened shortly after I took office in January 2011. Our staff was able to work with a genealogist and help locate a relative of Union Civil War Soldier Ira Cory.  The documents included a muster roll and papers outlining several battles. Capt. Cory took part in the Battle of Gettysburg. Our office was able to return these priceless documents to Capt. Cory’s great-grandson who lives in Ohio.
Link: www.treasurer.sc.gov/News/civilwarrelease.pdf
Video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLUc4zxs6zA

6.  In the past several years, we've seen more interest among both holders and states with regard to IRAs, rebates, and gift cards. What areas do you think your office will focus upon most over the next few years?
Treasurer Loftis:  My office’s focus is in returning as much money as possible to the rightful owners, educating businesses as to their reporting obligations, and to assist holders to come into compliance.
 7.  Other than paying claims, is there any specific budgetary item for which unclaimed funds are used? (by way of explanation, in some states, unclaimed funds are used as general revenue, in others the funds are specifically earmarked for schools, highways, etc.).
 Treasurer Loftis:In South Carolina, until the rightful owner is located, the unclaimed funds are used by the legislature for purposes that benefit all South Carolinians. However, as with most states, the owner never loses his/her right to claim the funds. The funds will always be available to the rightful owner to claim.
 8.  What has been your biggest unclaimed property accomplishment as Treasurer?
Treasurer Loftis:  Our biggest accomplishment has been publicizing the Program in as many free media outlets as possible. We started with two TV news phone banks and have several other TV stations across the State also interested in sponsoring phone banks during their evening news broadcasts. We also use social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to publicize the Program early on. We have held back on seeking more free media publicity because the response was so overwhelming early on. But once the backlog gets manageable, we anticipate more uses of free media and more public appearances to remind people of the Program.
9.  What is the unclaimed property area where your office has the most work to do?
Treasurer Loftis:  Publicizing the program comes at a cost in personnel time. Large public response results in numerous claims to process. To meet the increased demands on the Program’s resources, we have added additional part time claims processing staff. We are also exploring ways to use technology to assist with the claims payment process. Within the next 6 months we anticipate launching an on-line claims program. Claims for which the claimant is the original owner--and we either have a social security number on the account or the owner is still living at the address as provided by the holder--will be processed electronically. Once the program is functional, many of our claimants will no longer have to send the claim forms by mail, which will reduce the number of claims the staff must process manually thus greatly expediting the payments to the rightful owners.
10.  If you could give one piece of unclaimed property advice to the owner community, what would it be?
Treasurer Loftis:  Make a sincere effort to find the missing owners BEFORE the funds are reportable to the State as unclaimed. It is so much easier to locate owners shortly after you realize they are “missing” than to wait 1 to 5 years to perform the required due diligence. For those accounts for which you were unable to locate the owner, providing the State with as much information as you have regarding the account and the owner will increase the likelihood the funds will be returned to the rightful owner.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

West Virginia's Treasurer Pens Op-Ed on Unclaimed Property Auctions

As you may know, not all unclaimed property is money.  Every year, thousands of safe-deposit boxes are abandoned, and their contents -- jewelry, coins, gold (of various kinds) and some more . . . unique items -- get sent to unclaimed property offices throughout the country.  We've made brief mention of these auctions before, but recently, West Virginia State Treasurer John D. Purdue wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Charleston Gazette explaining both the process, and the reasons for it.  While it is easy to assume that the state holds these auctions so that items don't just collect dust in storage areas, Treasurer Purdue explains some of the other benefits of the auction program: 
"Opening this process up to bidders nationwide offers a better sale prospect for the property owner. It increases the chances a serious collector might come across the item and appreciate its value. And whatever the item generates remains in the account owner's name while we continue looking for that person."
 For more information concerning West Virginia's actions, visit their auction page here

Monday, September 12, 2011

Programming Note: Meet Your Eschator Coming Wednesday

We are pleased to announce that we will be posting our second installment of "Meet Your Escheator" -- Escheatable's interviews with state unclaimed property administrators -- this coming Wednesday.  In case you missed it, our first interview was with Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel.  Be sure to check on Wednesday, for our newest Q&A with South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis M. Loftis, Jr.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Unclaimed Property in British Columbia, Canada

We've mentioned unclaimed property held in Canada before, but a recent article by James Kwantes in The Vancouver Sun has a good deal of information on unclaimed property held in the Canadian province of British Columbia (Canada, like the U.S., has a federal government, and unclaimed property is governed by the laws of each individual province).  The situation in British Columbia is quite unique in that a foundation - The British Columbia Unclaimed Property Society - not the government, has been administering the provincial unclaimed property program since 2003.

According to the article (which is well worth a read), the Society is currently holding over $90 million in funds, including some dating as far back as 1859 (even though BC did not become a province until 11 years later).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

West Virginia Treasurer to Offer Holder Workshop

West Virginia's (and many other states') unclaimed property reporting and remittance date is upcoming on October 31st.  If any unclaimed property holders have reporting questions, the West Virginia Treasury Department has answers.  In particular, the Treasurer's Office is hosting an Unclaimed Property Holder Workshop on October 12 in South Charleston, West Virginia. 

Have your last-minute questions answered.  Details for the workshop can be found on the Treasury's website.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Another Record-Breaking Year for Nevada's Unclaimed Property Department

According to an article in the Record-Courier of Nevada, the Nevada State Treasurer, Unclaimed Property Division set a number of records last year with respect to unclaimed property.  According to the Record-Courier, the Treasurer's office transferred more than $83 million in unclaimed property collections to the state's general fund.  Not only did Nevada reach a record high in collections, however, it paid out more than $32.8 million in claims -- another state record.

If recent trends are any indication, these records may not stand for very long.  Nevada's previous records for transfer to the state's general fund ($66 million) and paid claims ($25.3 million) were both set last year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

UP Police Blotter: Wisconsin Lawyer Charged With Unclaimed Property Fraud

According to an article by Aaron Martin on BrookfieldNow.com, a Wisconsin lawyer faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000 for trying to fraudulently claim more than half a million dollars in unclaimed property. According to the article, the dishonest lawyer (no, that's not redundant) -- "targeted mortgage foreclosure cases in which foreclosed homeowners failed to collect surplus funds generated from homes being sold in sheriff's auctions."

This spotlights one type of unclaimed property that is very likely to increase for the next couple of years -- proceeds from sheriffs' sales.  In light of the huge uptick in foreclosures arising from the current financial crisis, many defaulted properties are sold by Sheriffs' sale -- a public auction (generally conducted by the county sheriffs' office - hence the name) at which the property is sold to pay off the outstanding mortgages.  Sometimes, however, the amount that the property sells for is more than the outstanding mortgage.  In that situation, the excess proceeds are the property of the former homeowner.

These excess sale proceeds were the item targeted by this fraud scheme.  According to the article, the rogue attorney "forged signatures on power-of-attorney documents and stamped them with bogus notary seals. He then filed the forged documents in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, duping judges into signing orders for payment of surplus funds."

Just as the jump in foreclosures has lead to more unclaimed property, so too will it lead many try to take advantage of it.




Thursday, September 1, 2011

New York Controller Goes On TV To Talk About Unclaimed Property

Recently, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli appeared on ABC's Good Morning America to talk about unclaimed funds held by the Empire State.  According to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, the New York Office of Unclaimed Funds was able to locate approximately $44,000 for the crew and staff of Good Morning America (video here).

Of course, even for those not on TV, you can search for money held by New York State by visiting the website of the New York Office of Unclaimed Funds here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Unclaimed Property ("Bona Vacantia") in the UK

As we've mentioned before, modern-day unclaimed property laws stem from the British common-law doctrine of bona vacantia ("ownerless goods") under which lost, mislaid, and abandoned property was turned over to the crown.

That doctrine still exists in the U.K.  For example, in the Vale of White Horse (England), local authorities will use bona vacantia to provide public funerals for those who die without heirs, a will, or other burial arrangements.  The remainder of any estate is transferred to the Office of the Treasury Solicitor where unclaimed estates can be searched and claimed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

At the Missouri State Fair: Racing Pigs, The Doobie Brothers, and Unclaimed Property

From August 11 to 21, the Missouri State Fair is being held in Sedalia, Missouri.  Among the festivities are "Hedrick's Racing Pigs Show," a concert by the Doobie Brothers, and a presentation entitled "Beef, It's Good."  It's also a place to have your unclaimed property questions answered.  According to an article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel's unclaimed property team will be in attendance at the State Fair to answer questions and help Missourians search for their unclaimed funds.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tips for Claiming Abandoned Property From Kiplinger's Personal Finance

The September 2011 issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance has an article by Michael Stratford that contains some helpful tips on claiming abandoned property.  In addition to the normal advice about checking the NAUPA site and being wary of scams, the article also provides information about unclaimed property (savings bonds, tax refunds, etc.) held by the federal government as well as some tips for claiming property.  . . . . Not to mention some expert advice from a well-known escheat blogger =)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back From Vacation - Illinois Shortens Payroll Dormancy Periods

Escheatable is back from a short break, and we have (belated) news concerning Illinois' Unclaimed Property Act.  As we mentioned some time ago, the Illinois state legislature approved House Bill 1560.  That bill was signed by the Governor and became law on August 8th. 

Pursuant to that legislation, which takes effect immediately, "unclaimed wages, payroll, and salary, in any form, shall be reported after remaining unclaimed for one year."  Accordingly, this year's Illinois unclaimed property reports will likely include 5 years worth of payroll. 



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Warning About Unclaimed Property Scams (& Some Claiming Tips)

According to Fox 19 in Cincinnati, the Ohio Department of Commerce is warning Ohioans about an unclaimed property scam that is being used to try to trick people into providing bank account and other personal financial information.  To add an element of credibility, the scam emails supposedly come from the Nat'l Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators which is, of course, a real organization of which most states' unclaimed property offices are a member. 

Update:  According to Fox 5 Las Vegas, Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall is warning of a similar scam.

Here are some helpful claiming tips:
  • Don't Pay to Search -- States do not charge a fee for allowing you to search for unclaimed funds, or in most cases, even to collect unclaimed funds.
  • Don't Trust Links -- If you receive an email purporting to be from your state unclaimed property office with a link, go to the site directly.  A link to every states' unclaimed property office can be found on the website of the Nat'l Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
  • Don't Trust Phone Numbers -- Similarly, don't call the number provided to you in an unsolicited email or voicemail.  Look up (using NAUPA or some other source) the phone number for your state unclaimed property office yourself, and call them directly.
    • Update:  According an article posted by Fox 5 Las Vegas, Nevada is warning that the scam referred to above seeks to trick victims into "call[ing] an international phone number and incur[ing] high fees for the call."
  • Don't Provide Financial Information -- You do not have to provide any financial or bank account information to perform a search or to learn if a state is holding unclaimed funds on your behalf. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Did You Know? NFL Lockout Edition

Earlier this week, the National Football League and its Players' Association agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement, meaning that football should go on uninterrupted for the next 10 years everywhere from New York to Los Angeles Oakland.  The recent dispute between the NFL and its players, of course, largely centered around money.  The NFL and the players each argued that the other was getting too much of it.

What does this have to do with unclaimed property?  Well, if the NFL and the Players' Association want to bring in more revenue, they can start by collecting the amounts they are already owed.  The National Football League and the Players' Association both have money waiting for them at the New York Office of Unclaimed Funds and the Washington DC CFO's Office, respectively.  The New York Giants also have money waiting for them in New Jersey, which is, of course, the state in which they (as well as the Jets) are located.

Kenyan Financial Institutions Express Concern Regarding Proposed Unclaimed Assets Law

As we've mentioned earlier, Kenya is considering adoption of an unclaimed property law that is very similar to the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act.  Not everyone is happy about this development.  According to an article in The Daily Nation, Kenyan banks and insurance companies are "alarmed" about several aspects of the law, including its potential retroactivity, and provisions allowing the government to sell unclaimed property to the highest bidder after three years.

Also of significant concern to the potential holders is an apparent conflict in Kenyan law that could result in companies continuing to be liable to owners of unclaimed property even after it has been reported and remitted to the government.  Although the proposed legislation does provide for indemnification of the holder (as do the U.S. uniform acts) the would-be holders seem to want greater assurance that they will not be subject to double liability.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rhode Island Changes State Notice Requirements - Check the Fine Print

On July 12, the Governor of Rhode Island approved Senate Bill 725, which makes some changes concerning the state's publication of notice to owners of unclaimed property.  Pursuant to the old version of the law, the state was required to publish notice once per year in a newspaper in general circulation in each county of an owner's last known address.  Under the revised law, the state will publish those notices twice per year, but the advertisements will be limited to no more than 1/4 of a page.

Friday, July 22, 2011

California Issues Quarterly Newsletter; Veiled Threats

The California State Controller's office has issued its most recent quarterly newsletter for holders of unclaimed property.  The newsletter contains a listing of common reporting errors made by holders of unclaimed property, as well as a helpful listing of upcoming dates and deadlines.

The primary substance of the newsletter, however, is a reminder from California about the appropriate "rules of jurisdiction."  While the entry purports to provide a "remind[er]" about the jurisdictional reporting rules, it is also clear that California issuing a thinly-veiled warning to holders that all California property (no matter how de minimis) should be reported to California as opposed to other states. 

Among the warnings:
  • Even if a another state is willing to receive "incidental" California items, California will still assess an "interest penalty";
  • Late reports will be subject to a "late filing interest assessment";
  • Other states cannot indemnify a holder for California property delivered to another state.
The latter warning is odd.  Technically, whether or not the receiving state can indemnify a holder for anything is, quite obviously, up to the receiving state.  Nonetheless, the point is that California will not abandon its pursuit of a holder simply in light of evidence that Califonria property was reported elsewhere.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

North Dakota Holding $32 Million

According to an article posted on the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead (ND), the State of North Dakota is currently holding about $32 million in unclaimed funds for its residents.  While the amount held and returned by North Dakota are smaller than others in dollars, the state does very well in returning money by percentage.  According to the article, "In fiscal year 2010, the state took in $3.8 million in unclaimed property and paid out $1.5 million."  That's a nearly 40% rate of returned property.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Factors That Trigger Unclaimed Property Audits

One of the topics that most unclaimed property want to know (but are afraid to ask) is:   What factors lead to a state's decision to commence an audit?  Obviously, there are a multitude of factors that influence this decision, and from time to time, the audit of a particular holder may be completely random, or part of an industry-wide "sweep" of many holders in the same line of business.

While certainly not an exhaustive list, Section 1301:10-3-04(E) of the Ohio Administrative Code has a non-exclusive list of factors that may be used by the Director "in determining whether reasonable cause exists to believe" that a holder should be audited.  Among the factors are:
  • the size of the holder;
  • the "types and amounts" of accounts reported (and, presumably, whether some types of accounts are not being reported);
  • the holder's past reporting history, "relative to other entities of the same size or industry";
  • significant merger, acquisition, or disposition activity;
  • owner complaints regarding due diligence (or lack thereof);
  • failure to perform due diligence or provide complete reporting information; and
  • the filing of negative reports in consecutive years.
If many of the items below apply to your company, an unclaimed property audit may be in your future.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Show Me State Continues to Break Records for Owner Reunification

Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel is no stranger to us at Escheatable (see here, here, and here for examples).  In fact, Treasurer Zweifel was featured in our very first installment of Meet Your Escheator, a question an answer session with state unclaimed property officials (Ed. Note: stay tuned for the next intallment, coming soon!).

Generally, we have featured the Missouri Unclaimed Property Division for its concerted efforts to pay out unclaimed property.  That's not a typo.

In our recent interview with Treasurer Zweifel, he indicated that his priority was "returning as much property as I can as quickly as possible."  It appears that the Treasurer's efforts are making an impact.  According to the Associated Press, "returned a record $36 million of money and items to people during the 2011 fiscal year" an increase of 4% from last year (which was also a recordbreaking year). 

While nearly all state unclaimed property offices work dilligently to bring in unclaimed funds, Missouri is one of a handful of states that seems to be putting as much thought and energy into paying out unclaimed funds to their rightful owners.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Life Insurance Probe Scorecard - Nevada Brings in $1M and Investigation Expands to 20

The life insurance probe continues.  As we've mentioned a few times (as recently as last week), a number of states (35 at last count) were looking into the death benefit payment practices of life insurers. In particular, the investigation seems to be focused on whether the insurers are properly determining when death benefits are due to beneficiaries. The states allege that the insurers have traditionally actively researched death index information for annuity products (i.e., where the insurer was paying benefits until the policyholder died) but not using those same sources to determine when life insurance benefits became payable to beneficiaries.

We know that at least one company paid California $20 million  to settle unclaimed property claims, as well as $3 million to Florida, and that the investigation has expanded to at least 35 states and 10 insurers.  Now, we can chalk up another settlement.  According to Fox 5 Las Vegas, Nevada "will receive approximately $1 million as the result of an agreement with insurer John Hancock over unclaimed life insurance and annuity contracts."  More worthy of attention is the article's mention that the investigation now includes 20 insurers.

Thus far, the current stats are:
- states involved: 35 (not sure if it is 35 plus D.C., or 35 including D.C., we've seen it both ways)
- insurance companies under investigation: 20
- settlements:  at least $24 million
- potential exposure:  unknown (but possibly in the billions - with a b)

Also worth noting, last week the New York State Insurance Department issued a directive requiring all 172 life insurers authorized to do business in New York to use the Social Security Administration's Master File to identify death benefit payments that may be due.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Life Insurance Probe Continues - New York Gets In On The (Martin?) Act

As mentioned a few times before, a number of states (35 at last count) were looking into the death benefit payment practices of life insurers.  In particular, the investigation seems to be focused on whether the insurers are properly determining when death benefits are due to beneficiaries.  The states allege that the insurers have traditionally actively researched death index information for annuity products (i.e., where the insurer was paying benefits until the policyholder died) but not using those same sources to determine when life insurance benefits became payble to beneficiaries.

According to an article published yesterday on Bloomberg.com, the New York State Attorney General's office has issued subpoenas to 10 insurers (presumably the same ones under investigation by California) seeking "documents and information related to the companies’ procedures around abandoned property."  The article also raises the spectre that New York could use the 1921 Martin Act to gather information and punish violations.  In the Martin Act sounds familiar, it's because that same law was previously used by a well-known New York Attorney General to aggressively investigate allegations of securities fraud.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Illinois Unclaimed Property Vault Opening July 11th

As we've discussed elsewhere, the contents of abandoned safe deposit boxes are often forwarded to the state as unclaimed property.  Among the coins, jewelry, memorabilia, and papers are other . . . special items.  Ever wonder what the state is holding?  Well, if you are in Springfield, Illinois during the week of July 11th, you'll get your chance to find out.

According to WJBC ("The Voice of Central Illinois") Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford is opening the state's unclaimed property vault for tours during the week of July 11 (from 9 am to 4 pm).  No word on whether each tour goer will be allowed to take a souvenir.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Did You Know? - Going to Mars

It's time again for Did You Know? On DYK days here at Escheatable, we try provide you with interesting information regarding the unclaimed property laws to amaze your friends and frighten your enemies.

This trip to Mars is brought to you by unclaimed dividends.
According to this article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the State of California is holding $6.1 billion in unclaimed property (bringing in some $633 million in the past year).   To put that number is perspective, $6.1 billion is:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

International Unclaimed Property: Australia

From time to time, we provide information concerning "foreign" (i.e., non-U.S. unclaimed property laws).  Earlier articles have covered unclaimed property in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Kenya, and New Zealand.  Today, we continue our trip in the South Pacific by looking at unclaimed property in Australia. 

According to an article in this weekend's Sydney Morning Herald, there are more than A$600 million in unclaimed financial accounts, and some A$1 billion in unclaimed shares held by Australian regulators, state governments, and transfer/exchange agencies.  In addition, the article indicates that there is much more in unclaimed "super" (i.e., retirement benefits), to the tune of A$13.6 billion, or $900 for each working-age Aussie.

The full article, complete with information on claiming funds from the applicable agencies can be found here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wisconsin Unclaimed Property Auction Underway

Need a sterling silver necklace with "lima bean" shaped pendant?  How about a Harley Davidson 90th Anniversary Silver Bar?  Maybe a silver four-leaf clover pendant?   That's right . . . it's unclaimed property auction time!  Last Friday, Wisconsin began its latest online unclaimed property auction, including the above-listed items and more!

The auctioned items are generally those reported and remitted to the state from abandoned safe deposit boxes.  According to the Wisconsin Unclaimed Property Act, safe deposit boxes are considered unclaimed "5 years after the lease or rental period on the box or other repository has expired."  The relevant law further provides that the Treasurer's office may sell the reported items after they have been held for 3 years (i.e., 8 years after last activity).
A link to the Department's eBay site is here.  The auction will end on July 1.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Breaking News: Nevada Passes New Law Targeting High-Dollar Holders

The Governor of Nevada has approved Senate Bill 136.  The new law, which makes several changes to Nevada's banking laws, also makes some very unique changes to the state unclaimed property act.  The new legislation shortens the dormancy period for several property types, but only for holders who have reported $10 million in the most recent year's report.

Specifically, the relevant language of the new law provides that for stock, security interests, debt of a business association, deposits and similar accounts, retail credits and for all other non-specified property:

the 3-year period described in each of those paragraphs must be reduced to a 2-year period if the holder of the property reported more than $10 million in property presumed abandoned on the holder's most recent report of abandoned property

Senate Bill 136 at Section 8.  Though the universe of Nevada holders reporting and remitting $10 million per year is probably minimal, this marks the first time that a state is explicitly targeting large-volume holders for special treatment (i.e., shorter dormancy periods) under the unclaimed property laws.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Texas Unclaimed Property Changes Become Law

As we mentioned last week, Texas was considering House Bill 257, a bill designed to help the Lone Star State partially overcome its budget problems (at least for this year) by shortening the dormancy periods for certain property types.  That bill was signed by the Governor on Friday.  Accordingly, the act establishes the following new (shortened) dormancy periods:
  • utility deposits -- 18 months;
  • money orders -- 3 years;
  • bank deposits -- 3 years;
  • savings accounts -- 3 years;
  • matured certificates of deposits (CDs) -- 3years. 
These shortened dormancy periods are effective as of September, 2011.

The finalized law will also result in a change to the reporting schedule effective January 1, 2013.  Under this revised reporting schedule, reports will be due July 1, as of the previous March 1.  Texas will become the second state (after Michigan) to use a July/March reporting period.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Unclaimed Property Goes Primetime (or, at least Daytime)

Yesterday, Good Morning America followed John Purdue, the West Virginia State Treasurer, as he presented a check for nearly $15,000 to one West Virgina resident.  The property at issue was a CD belonging to the claimant's mother, who passed away last year.  The full story is available on the Good Morning America website, and there is an accompanying article that has stories from GMA readers/viewers who have claimed money, as well as a list of tips for finding unclaimed property.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bills to Shorten Dormancy Periods Sent to Governors in Illinois & Texas

Bills that would shorten the dormancy periods for certain types of items have been sent to the Governors of Illinois and Texas, respectively.

Illinois -- Illinois has traditionally been one of a small handful of states where payroll/wages had a dormancy period of longer than 1 year.  That will probably not be true for much longer.  On June 10, House Bill 1560 was sent to the Governor for signature.  Pursuant to that legislation, which will take effect immediately, "unclaimed wages, payroll, and salary, in any form, shall be reported after remaining unclaimed for one year."

Texas -- In Texas, we previously covered House Bill 257, which would shorten the dormancy period for utility deposits from three years to 18 months; money orders from seven years to three years; and bank deposits, savings accounts, and matured certificates of deposits from five years to three years.  That bill has been approved by the state legislature and has been sent to the Governor for signature.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Unclaimed Savings Bonds

During this time of year, there are many graduation celebrations of all levels -- from preschool to college.  A popular gift for many of those graduates are U.S. Savings Bonds.  Under the most popular savings bond program (series EE), the bond is purchased for 50% of its face value, and matures 20 years from issuance.  Though the bond matures after 20 years, they continue to earn interest for an additional ten years (or until cashed).

Of course, with a 20 year period before the bond matures, many graduates will put them in a drawer or safe deposit box and lose track of them completely.  These items held by the federal government, however, are not escheated to the states as unclaimed property.  Instead, the Treasury Department has a special webpage to help bondholders find information about lost or matured bonds.  Please check it out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

News Report About Sacramento's Use of Unclaimed Property to Balance its Budget (Video)

Recently, a frequent topic has been government efforts to use unclaimed property to reduce, or eliminate, budget deficits (see, for example, here and here).  Now, it seems that state governments are not the only ones getting in on the Act.  According to a report by KOVR (CBS 13) in Sacramento, city officials there are considering the use of the city's unclaimed funds (i.e., items payable by the city like utility refunds and uncashed checks) to alleviate their municipal budget deficit.  According to the story, Sacramento has a budget deficit of more than $30 million, and about $2 million in unclaimed property, which it may keep if it is unable to reunite with its rightful owners.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Vermont Takes in $9 Million in Unclaimed Property

Vermont is among a handful of states that require holders to report unclaimed property in the Spring (most states' report deadlines are October 31 or November 1).  According to a press release issued by the Vermont State Treasurer's office, the state brought in approximately $9 million of unclaimed property so far this fiscal year, raising the total amount held by Vermont to more than $52 million, with an average dollar amount of about $190.

For the same period, Vermont has paid out about nearly 10,000 claims, with a total dollar value of $3.5 million.  Vermonters can check if they have money held by the state Unclaimed Property Division by visiting the Treasury website.

Monday, June 6, 2011

UPPO Hosting Holder's Seminar - July 25-26 in Boston

The Unclaimed Property Professionals' Organization is hosting its annual Regional Conference on July 25 and 26 in Boston, Massachusetts.  This year's conference offers both beginner and intermediate session tracks, so there is something for both unclaimed property neophytes and veterans.  I highly recommend the regional conference, especially if you are new to the field and/or are just taking on unclaimed property responsibilities.  In little more than one day, you can learn the basics of unclaimed property as well as how to set up an unclaimed property department, or defend an audit.  The timing is especially helpful, as fall reporting will be here before you know it.

Registration information is available at the UPPO website.