ESTATE | Do you have unclaimed property?
A client recently contacted us about a group of letters they received from a company offering assistance collecting unclaimed property in the state of California. It had been decades since they had lived in California, so how could they possibly have unclaimed property there? With phishing scams so prevalent, they were very cautious. Fortunately, a quick search on the State of California’s website confirmed they did have unclaimed assets; $275,000 in appreciated stock and dividends, from a job held close to 30 years ago with a startup computer company named Apple.
Similarly, we had another client who misplaced their Starbucks stock certificates. With a bit of effort, we identified about $100,000 in stock and dividends that were listed as unclaimed property with the state of Washington.
Clearly, these clients have a very fortunate story to share, however there are thousands and thousands of people, including both me and one of my bothers, that have nominal amounts that remain unclaimed.
What is Unclaimed Property?
Unclaimed property refers to financial assets like savings or checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividend, payroll, refund checks, insurance payments, security deposits, estate distributions, and the like.
Each state’s laws governing unclaimed property are different, but fundamentally, unclaimed property is reported to the state. If the property is not claimed, eventually the assets are transferred to the state. Typically, accounts are considered dormant, or unclaimed, when accounts remain untouched for over three years.
How did I lose my property?
The most common cause of unclaimed property is changing addresses. Moving is a busy, stressful experience, and it is easy to see how accounts could slip through the cracks. If you owe money to a doctor, utility, or some other service provider, they are going to track you down. But, if they owe you, the incentive to find you is much lower. Fortunately, both Federal and State laws require those assets eventually be turned over.
How do I check to see if I have any Unclaimed Property?
As with the client noted above, there are third-party services that will assist you in recovering your assets. They are for-profit services that will charge you a percentage of the amount recovered. If you are contacted by one or more, then that bodes very well for you because it likely means you have a substantial amount of Unclaimed Property.
However, the process is relatively simple, and can easily be done by anyone with a computer in about five minutes. A quick search of different regional State sites found they are all straightforward and easy to navigate. In most cases, all I had to do was enter my last name.
After searching by name, I sorted through the results by city. I checked different cities where I had either lived or conducted business. In my case, my father and I share the same initials, so I was able to search for both of us. I found a few that matched his name, but, unfortunately, there do not appear to be any forgotten-about early Microsoft stock certificates to be inherited. There was an unclaimed $50 bail refund, but let’s hope that is not his.
How do I claim your Unclaimed Property?
If you find a claim that looks familiar (e.g. your name, a city in which you have lived or worked, a service provider with which you have experience, or something so amazing you want to spend the time and effort to check just to make sure), then you move on to the next step. On Washington’s website, there is a Pursue Claim button that is impossible to miss.
Fortunately, in addition to the unclaimed bail refund, I did find an uncashed check from Dish Network that was payable to someone with my name at my previous address. After creating a username and password for the State’s website, I started the process. The entire process took two minutes. I preferred the online option, but there is also a choice for submitting by US Mail. I uploaded a copy of my current ID and proof I was associated with the previous address. After that, I entered my current Washington State driver’s license number, and selected Submit.
I expect to receive a check in a month or so, and I will update this post as appropriate.
What happens if my property is never claimed?
Unclaimed property can be claimed in perpetuity, so in theory there is no risk of losing it. However, after the property is transferred from the original entity, the State holds the property. Until the property is claimed, the property is used by the State for the general good. In short, the State spends the money, but they leave the potential claim as a liability that could be claimed at some point.
I found a claim for someone else, what do I do?
In most circumstances, the best course of action is to let the person know to check the website themselves. However, you can also apply as an heir of an estate or a legal representative. If you are trying to help an older family member who is not very tech savvy, then start the claim process, print a hard copy, and then help them complete and send in the application.
Recent Update: Here are helpful links to regional states: