Unclaimed Property – What’s the Big Deal?

You will have to excuse me while I blog about a pet peeve of mine: unclaimed property. It is something that is so (excuse my language, but) stupid!!

I subscribe to several RSS feeds and track keywords that relate to my business. I am amazed to see so many articles on unclaimed property. What is the big deal and what is going on? Well, with a little research and a few calculations, I now understand what the big deal is. Permit me to lay it out for you.

First, what is unclaimed property? Well, the definition can actually change from state to state. But, believe it or not, there is actually a National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). Really? There is so much unclaimed property that they have a professional association? Wow, that says something!

Anyway NAUPA defines unclaimed property as:

Unclaimed property (sometimes referred to as abandoned) refers to accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity generated or contact with the owner for one year or a longer period. Common forms of unclaimed property include savings or checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler's checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states), insurance payments or refunds and life insurance policies, annuities, certificates of deposit, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, mineral royalty payments, and contents of safe deposit boxes.

You notice that this does not include actual property such as a piece of land or a house. If you read very carefully, what they mean by “property” is actually cash. Unclaimed cash…….mmmmmmmm. Sounds good to me.

I wonder why unclaimed property became an issue. After looking a little further I found out that most of the states enacted their unclaimed property legislation during the 1940s. Every state has legislation that determines how the unclaimed property is managed.

I think that during and after World War II, states started noticing that bank accounts and other things had been abandoned. Could the trauma of war, families being split up, people enlisting in the service and many, many times never coming back started this issue? Then we moved into the 50s and families became more transient. Households that had very often consisted of three or more generations, no longer did. Children went off to college and didn’t come back home after graduation. The family farm became something of the past as we moved into cities and factories.

BOOM!! People can no longer be found and the unclaimed property issue springs up. No one kept records on what they had. I wonder how many granddaughters don’t have that special ring that Grandma put away in the safe deposit box but forgot to write down so someone would know it was there.

My entire purpose of this blog is to get you to realize that your clients are vulnerable to: a) being a claimant to family members’ lost fortunes, or b) having their possessions lost for future generations.

It really doesn’t hurt that much to document what is there. Why is this not done? Probably because people don’t think about it.

If you are need to document and organize someone’s personal and financial records, you must ask the question about a safety deposit box. Maybe valuables are in someone’s possession for safekeeping. Whatever the circumstance, get a list and let it be known that there are valuables other than the checking and investment accounts.

Okay, I say to myself, just how much unclaimed property is there? Well nationwide it is a very large number. The NAUPA estimates that approximately $41.7 billion is held by the states waiting for someone to claim it.

How long would someone have to claim their property? Well it appears in most states they hold on to it until you, or your heirs, claim it. That could be a very long time.

Unfortunately, in our world of instant information, some businesses have grown up because of this issue. People are spending time to track down individuals or their heirs and telling them they have unclaimed property. They won’t tell them where the property is and then they charge a fee (around 10% of the value) to “recover” it for them. With a little research you can find property yourself.

A good place to start is the NAUPA website (http://www.unclaimed.org/default.asp). This will guide you to your state’s unclaimed property department. Most of the states have a searchable website where you can put in names and it will return information if there is any property held in that name.

You could be a hero to your family. Think about maiden names, parent’s names, etc. Ask about what states your family has lived in. Then do a quick search. Could you uncover some hidden treasure? Can you imagine what that could do for you as someone who cares for someone and takes the time to go above and beyond?

Just for fun I went to several states that I knew my family had resided in. Specifically, I went to New York, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. I entered all four of my grandparents’ names and then the names of my mother and father. This is what I found:

My father has unclaimed property in the state of Florida. Dad has been dead since 2002.

There is a potential my maternal grandfather has property in the state of Iowa. It looks like stock and is valued at over $100. Grandpa died in 1963.

I think it is at least worth looking into. You never know; I may retire!!

Stay tuned, more to follow.