Monday, February 28, 2011

State of Hawaii Holding Thousands in Unclaimed Property for State of Hawaii

One of the things that Escheatable regularly mentions is unclaimed property that is being held for many of the same state agencies that are suffering significant budget restrictions.  In response to myriad tax, fee, and surcharge increases, governments will often opine that "every little bit counts."  No doubt that is true.  It has increasingly become clear, however, that one of the places that many of these governments can start is by collecting unclaimed property that is being held for the state's behalf.  Some time ago, Escheatable mention a situation in California where the state was holding property for its own coffers.

Recently, according to a article written by Greg Wiles of the Hawaii Reporter, the State of Hawaii has been added to the list of states holding tens of thousands of dollars in unclaimed property for various state departments and officials.  Among these amounts are in excess of $20,000 owed to the state department of Education and affiliated entities.  While this money will probably not solve all of Hawaii's budget challenges, every little bit counts.

Friday, February 25, 2011

State Unclaimed Property Reunification Efforts - Kansas Gets Records, Rhode Island Takes Calls

While state unclaimed property divisions are normally in the news for their efforts to collect unclaimed property, we have two articles today about states' efforts to give it back.

In Kansas, we recently mentioned efforts by State Treasurer Ron Estes to seek legislation allowing the Kansas Unclaimed Property Division to gain access to tax returns, vital records, and other owner identifying information maintained by other areas of state government, for use in locating owners.  According to the Wichitopekington blog, that bill has passed both the house and senate, and is expected to be signed into law.

Over in Rhode Island, according to this article on the GoLocalProv blog, State Treasurer Gina Raimondo was answering phones yesterday at the state's Unclaimed Property Division, responding to questions concerning the recently released annual unclaimed property list.  This year's list, as well as Rhode Island's archive of unclaimed property from previous years, can be found at the Treasury's website.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pending Legislation: Tennessee Gift Card Redemption and Missouri B2B Provisions

We continue our roundup of pending legislation here at Eschatable with pending bills in Tennessee and Missouri.

Tennessee -- House Bill 370 -- This bill would require that any gift card with a remaining balance of $10 less be redeemable in cash.  The bill is currently pending before the House Consumer & Employee Affairs Committee.  An identical bill is working its way through the state senate as Senate Bill 275.

Missouri -- House Bill 401 -- This bill would add a "business to business exemption" (or "B2B") to the Missouri Unclaimed Property Act and provide a time limit after which the Administrator could no longer file and action or proceeding to enforce the Act.  The B2B provision would exempt any "intangible property due or owed by a business association . . . to a business association resulting from a transaction occurring in the normal and ordinary course of business" from the reporting and remittance provisions of the Missouri Act.  The proposed limitation of action provision provides that the State Treasurer would be barred from bringing an action to enforce the Act more than 3 years after the holder filed a report with the Treasurer or gave some other notice of a dispute concerning the reportability of the property.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Who Watches the Watchers? A Follow-Up on the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office

As we covered earlier, a philly.com story noted that the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office may owe the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania millions in unclaimed property.  According to the initial article  the Sheriff's Office has not filed an unclaimed property report since 2006 (after having escheated in excess of $5 million over the 2002-05 period).

Recently, philly.com posted a follow-up story, reporting that the Treasurer's Office has given the Sheriff two months to attempt to determine how much money is owed to the Commonwealth.  Because of a lack of records, the office is having a hard time determining what, if anything is owed, and to whom. Assuming that the precise funds at issue are never found, it is an open question what, if anything, the Treasury Department will do to the Sheriff's Office.  It would be perverse if additional taxpayer money was required to be paid from the Sheriff's Office to the Treasury as an estimate of property that is due and owing to taxpayers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Video Tour of Indiana Unclaimed Property Department

The news site My Wabash Valley ran another part of its series on Indiana unclaimed property recently, complete with a video interview with the unclaimed property department, and a tour of the department's storage facility.  Among some of the items being held are an autographed Gerald Ford football card, other sports memorabilia, and a silver serving set.  As the article notes, Indiana is holding between $350 and $400 million for its residents.  If you or someone you know is a resident of Indiana, be sure to check the Indiana Unclaimed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Did You Know? President's Day Edition

 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.


In honor of President's Day, Escheatable is highlighting some of the unclaimed property owed to presidents.  New York, for example, is holding property for George Washington (as well as Bill Clinton and Martin Van Buren).  California is holding property for Abe Lincoln (and George W. Bush and John F. Kennedy).  New Jersey is holding property for its own Woodrow Wilson (he was born in Virginia, but ran for office as a resident of New Jersey).  Nor are only the most well-known presidents entitled to escheated funds.  There are items for Warren HardingRutherford Hayes, James K. Polk, and Grover Cleveland.  Even Sam Houston, the first (and third) President of The Republic of Texas is owed money in his (adopted) home state. 

As we celebrate President's Day today, lets honor those who appear on our money by (among other things) teaching others how to find their own.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ancient Origins of Unclaimed Property Law Still in Effect -- Scotland's Treasure Trove

As you may know, modern day unclaimed property laws are a descendant of an ancient common law legal doctrine known as bona vacantia ("vacant goods," in latin).  Under this doctrine, items of personal property with no known owner were deemed to be the property of the sovereign.  (The term escheat, though often used in the context of unclaimed personal property, is actually a misnomer; the common law doctrine of escheat actually referred to ownerless "real" property (i.e., land) not personal property).  While today's unclaimed property (US) and bona vacantia (UK) laws are primarily addressed towards unclaimed intangible property (e.g., money, deposits, checks, wills, etc.) it is worth noting that the original concepts of bona vacantia and treasure trove are alive and well in the UK.

For example, the BBC News reported yesterday on Scotland's 330 "treasure trove" cases over the past year - situations where archaeologists and/or ordinary citizens found medieval rings, ancient weapons, and other artifacts.  As the article explains, "[u]nder Scottish law, the Crown has the right to all lost and abandoned property which is not otherwise owned. Finders have no ownership rights and must report any objects to the treasure trove unit."  Such items are reported and turned over to the Queen and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer.

Included in last year's findings was an axe head believed to be between 4 and 6 thousand years old.  There was no word on whether 4,000 years of penalties and interest would be assessed for late reporting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New York Looks to Abandoned Property Law Changes to Increase Budget

New York has become the most recent state to eye unclaimed property law changes as part of its annual budgeting process.  As reported by the Wall Street Journal, on February 1st Governor Cuomo submitted a $132.9 billion budget to Albany for review by the state legislature.

That same day, bill was introduced in both the state Senate and Assembly to "[e]nact[] into law major components of legislation which are necessary to implement the state fiscal plan for the 2011-2012 state fiscal year."  Included within these proposed changes are amendments that would shorten the dormancy periods of Articles III, VI, XIII of the New York Abandoned Property Law (generally, relating to banks, courts, and miscellaneous property) from 5 years to 3 years.

Those bills are currently pending with the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance, respectively.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Market Watch Special Report on Unclaimed Property

Last week, MarketWatch published a multi-part special report on unclaimed property.  The report includes an overview of how and why states collect unclaimed property (which, if you're reading this, is probably something you're familiar with), as well as articles on compliance, celebrities with unclaimed property, and an interview with California Controller John Chiang.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Did You Know? It's a Small World After All

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.

Meeska, Mooska, Mickey's Unclaimed Refund!

Given the presence of a toddler around the Escheatable household, there is a fair amount of time spent with Mickey Mouse and his pals at the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  Apparently, when Mickey is not busy playing with his friends, he is buying software.  If you were ever wondering, it appears that Mickey is a "PC."  According to the California Unclaimed Property Database, Mickey is owed about $50 from Microsoft.  It must be good to be Mickey, according to the claim form, he now lives in Beverly Hills.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Exercise in Shameless Self-Promotion

As a public service, Escheatable would like to tip you off to a few upcoming events that are sure to be fascinating, insightful, and a tremendous use of your time.  In (possibly) related news, I am speaking at these events.

The 2011 Unclaimed Property Professionals' Organization National Conference
March 6 to 9 in San Antonio, Texas
Join your fellow unclaimed property professionals in San Antonio, Texas for 3 days of unclaimed property classes, contacts and information.  Regardless of your specific interests or level of expertise, there is something for everyone.  From Unclaimed Property 101 for those of you who have been recruited (or dragooned) into unclaimed property to advanced topics for the seasoned professional.  There will also be a state administrator open forum, industry-specific breakout groups, as well as networking events with your fellow unclaimed property professionals.

Basic, intermediate, and advanced courses are offered.  CPE credit is available.


If you're much more New Jersey focused, the following may be more your liking:
Lorman Seminars: Unclaimed Property Reporting in New Jersey
March 4 in Parsippany, New Jersey
  • Find out what unclaimed property is and how it affects your business
  • Avoid the financial risks of not complying with unclaimed property reporting laws
  • Learn how to prevent - or survive an audit
  • Discover what the future holds as unclaimed property continues to emerge in the marketplace and state requirements evolve
 This seminar provides both CPE and CLE credit.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More Pending Legislation Relating to Gift Cards and Other Issues

Yesterday, we looked at some pending legislation relating to gift cards.  Today, we will look at some additional pending legislation relating to gift cards, as well as some proposed amendments to the unclaimed property laws more generally.  Note that this is pending legislation, NOT laws that have been enacted.  Generally, it takes only one legislator to propose a bill; it takes a majority of those legislators and the governor's signature (or a veto override) to enact a bill into law.  For additional information regarding how a bill becomes a law, see here.

Connecticut - H.B. 5003 - Would require banks to send due diligence mailings to account owners, via certified mail, one year before a presumption of abandonment is to take place.  Currently pending in the Committee on Banks.

Missouri - H.B. 64 - Would shorten the dormancy period for payroll items from five years to one year.  Currently referred to the House Committee on Financial Institutions.

New Jersey - S.B. 2681 - Would undo this, and this, and this.  Lest anyone get too excited, note that an identical bill (A.B. 3250) has been pending since September of last year.  The bill is currently before the Senate Commerce Committee.

New York - A.B. 4062 - Would require any gift certificate (including gift cards) issued to a consumer to be redeemable for at least seven years.  Referred to Committee on Consumer Affairs.

Rhode Island - S.B. 90 - Would require all gift certificates to retain full value for 3 years, and allow issuers to deduct no more than  ten percent of the gift certificate's value for the remaining years.  Referred to Senate Corporations Committee.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More Pending Legislation Relating to Gift Cards

We've spent a great deal of time talking about New Jersey developments concerning gift cards (see here). Today, we will review some pending gift card legislation in other states:

AlaskaHouse Bill 75 - Would add "store gift cards" and "general use prepaid cards" to the items explicitly covered by the Alaska Unclaimed Property Act.  The Bill would also prohibit expiration dates of less than five years and would limit the issuer's right to assess dormancy fees.  The Bill is currently pending before the Committee on Labor & Commerce.

Tennessee - House Bill 116 - Would require any gift card issued for payment of a rebate to contain a prominent expiration date.

Texas - Senate Bill 362 - Would lengthen the dormancy period for "stored value cards" from 3 years to 5 years.

MaineL.R. 909 - Would lengthen from 2 years to 5 years the time after which a gift card is deemed abandoned. It also removes the requirement that a merchant must remit 60% of the unclaimed amount to the Treasurer.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kansas Seeks Access to Records to Reunite Owners With Unclaimed Property

According to an article in the Wichita Eagle, new Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes is requesting new legislation to allow the Unclaimed Property Department to access owner-identification information from other parts of the government.  Though it may be surprising, most state unclaimed property departments only attempt to track down owners (if at all) by using the address provided by the holder.

Specifically, the Kansas Unclaimed Property Department is seeking legislation allowing it to access tax returns, vital records, and other owner information to allow it to contact holders.  Allowing the state unclaimed property departments to access information from other parts of state government is a good first step in a comprehensive owner reunification program.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Who Watches the Watchers? Philadelphia Sheriff's Office May Owe Millions in Unclaimed Property

According to an article on Philly.com, the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office may owe the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania millions in unclaimed property.  The sheriff's office in Philly, as elsewhere, is generally responsible for conducting foreclosure sales and other auctions.  The proceeds for such sales are generally paid to the creditors of the former property owner, but sometimes the auction proceeds are more than the outstanding debt.  In such cases, the balance is properly payable to the former property owner.  In the event that the owner cannot be identified, the Sheriff's Office, like other holders is required to remit the funds to the Treasurer pursuant to the Unclaimed Property Act.

According to the report, the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office has not filed an unclaimed property report since 2006, after having escheated in excess of $5 million over the 2002-05 period.  Moreover, there appear to be no records documenting what happened to any excess auction proceeds since 2006.  The Sheriff's Office is currently conducting an investigation.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pending Legislation: One Word Makes A Big, Big Difference

A bill currently pending before the Illinois state legislature makes a seemingly simple change that could have an expensive impact on holders of unclaimed property belonging to Illinois residents.  Illinois House Bill 19 would amend the Illinois Unclaimed Property Act to provide that due diligence letters must be sent via certified (rather than first-class) mail. 

While the bill's intentions are sensible (generally, people are more likely to open and respond to certified mail) this legislation, if passed, would substantially increase the cost of doing due diligence.  Pursuant to the Illinois Unclaimed Property Act, holders are responsible for sending due diligence mailings to all potential owners, regardless of the value of the property.  If the legislation goes through, the cost of sending due diligence mailings to all owners will raise from 44 cents to $ 3.24 (an increase of almost 750%).  Perhaps a due diligence threshold is in order.