At some point in time, practically everyone has had a bank account, owned stock or worked for a paycheck. And we're all busy, and so we forget that we put money away in a bank somewhere, or we change jobs and don't realize that the old employer still owes you money.

So what happens to it? You may be surprised to know that the state may be holding that money for you. You may be even more surprised to learn that sometimes the state will keep it for itself.

What's "Unclaimed" Property?

Unclaimed or "abandoned" property is property that the owner hasn't paid attention to for a period of time, usually one year in most states, but the time varies from state to state, and may depend on the company or bank, too. You may have forgotten about it, or you simply didn't know it existed, and so it sat on some company's books waiting for you.

It can be just about anything, but some good examples include:

  • Money in savings and checking accounts
  • Stocks, bonds, and uncashed dividend checks
  • Payroll
  • Tax refunds, and
  • Security deposits paid to utility companies

Every state in the US has a program for trying to reconnect the owners with their property it. So, usually after a year, if the bank or company still has the money, state law requires turning the money over to the state where you lived at the time you began doing business with the bank or company.

Then What?

In most states, a special officer or agency - it may be called the "controller" or "treasurer" - will hold the money until you claim it, especially if it's cash or uncashed checks. In some states, property like stocks and bonds will be sold and the sale proceeds will be held for you. The state agencies are supposed to make every effort to contact the owner so that property may be returned.

In some states, however, unclaimed and abandoned property may be kept by the state. If the state can't find you or if you don't make a claim for it, the property goes to the state through a process called "escheat."

Other states will hold the money for you. In some states, the money goes straight into the state's general fund where it's used for things like street and highway repair, public education or other public programs.

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Tagged as: Government, unclaimed property, government lawyer