State Held Unclaimed Property

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What is meant by “Unclaimed Property”?

Unclaimed property refers to any funds that are held in an account that the owner has not acted upon for a long period of time.  After a set amount of time- usually one year in many states- the funds will be set aside and marked as unclaimed property.  Unclaimed property is sometimes held by an organization such as a bank or by the state, to allow its rightful owner some time to reclaim it.

Thus, “state-held unclaimed property” refers to funds that are held by the state whenever an individual abandons or neglects their account.  While unclaimed property usually refers to monies, it can also include other assets such as stocks, bonds or uncashed dividends.  These assets, especially stocks, may then be sold by the company and then converted into funds that are held by the company or by the state.

How can I retrieve my Unclaimed Property from the State?

Most states appoint a special officer called the “treasurer” or the “controller” who is in charge of holding money from unclaimed properties.  They are supposed to hold the money until an owner claims it, and must make reasonable efforts to contact the owner so that they can claim their property.

Retrieving unclaimed property from the state can be pretty straight-forward.  Every state will usually provide all of the necessary forms and instructions for recovering unclaimed property.  You will usually be required to provide:

For the details of your particular state laws, you may wish to contact the appropriate state department.  Also, contacting the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) may be of some help.  You can also learn your state’s unclaimed property laws by contacting a lawyer for advice.

Is Unclaimed Property the same as Abandoned Property?

No.  Unclaimed property usually refers to money that is left in bank accounts with no activity for over a year.  In comparison, abandoned property may be any real property, such as a home, or personal property such as a watch or jewelry, etc. 

Also, property is only abandoned when the owner gives up possession with no intent to recover it.  If a person discovers an abandoned watch, they may be able to legally keep it for personal use without having to contact its previous owner.  Property is usually deemed abandoned after a set period of time. 

On the other hand, with unclaimed property, the owner may have the intention of reclaiming the property in the near future.  Thus, the state may be obligated to hold the property until the owner steps up to claim it. 

Some states allow unclaimed property to escheat or revert back to the state if no person claims it after a certain amount of time.  The owner will then no longer be entitled to retrieve it, and the state may treat it as abandoned property. 

What can I do to Prevent Instances of Unclaimed Property? 

The best thing to do to prevent unclaimed property issues is to exercise common sense- keep detailed accounts of your money, and make sure you keep track of your assets.  Of course, situations may arise that can cause money from even the most detailed accounts to become unclaimed property. 

Some steps to take to monitor your funds include:

These steps can also make it easier if you have to recover unclaimed property from the state in the future.  For example, if you have a list of all your active bank accounts, it may be easier to prove your ownership to the state.   

Do I Need a Lawyer for Unclaimed Property held by the State?

Every year, several billions of dollars are handed over to the state because the owner could not be located or was not aware that they had unclaimed property.  If you need to make a filing for unclaimed property, you may wish to contact a lawyer.  Your lawyer can help you assemble your documents to be used in proving ownership.  Also, if a dispute arises with the state, an attorney can help represent your interests. 

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Last Modified: 03-23-2011 02:05 PM PDT

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