There are numerous ways that the unscrupulous will try to separate you from your money. Have you ever received a letter or phone call from someone claiming that they found money that is owed to you? It appears that the letter or caller is from the government. All you have to do is agree to pay them a fee upfront or provide personal information. Sometimes the fee is as much as half of the amount found. Beware of these scammers.
You may have received a notice from your bank saying you haven’t had a deposit to or a withdrawal out of an account in a number of years and if you do not do a transaction soon, they will consider that account dormant and turn it over to the state. If a business is holding your property and the property has been dormant for a certain period of time, the business is required to report it to the state and then submit your property to the state unclaimed property fund. In Michigan, this dormancy period of time can be as short as three years for property such as bank accounts or as long as 15 years for property like travelers’ checks.
There are some legitimate companies out there, sometimes called finders or locators that may have been hired by a financial institution to find you before they submit your dormant property to the state. Some states limit the finder’s fees to 10% of the value of the property. Legitimate companies generally do not ask for a fee upfront and no reported governmental agency charges any fees at all to recover unclaimed property.
Generally, if you do not claim your property within one to three years from the state receiving it, the state is mandated to sell the property at a public auction or on the open market at prevailing prices. Any funds received by the state from holder submissions or from the sale of unclaimed property shall be promptly submitted to the state General Fund.
Unclaimed property is a large part of many states’ annual budgets. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, also called NAUPA, in governmental fiscal year 2015, the most recent data reported, states collected $7.8 billion in unclaimed property and only paid out $3.2 billion. Is some of that money yours?
Even though those funds are deposited in the state General Fund, there is no time limit for you to make a claim to the state for your unclaimed or abandoned property. You always have an opportunity to reclaim those funds even though they have been turned over to the state many years ago. But how do you find out if you have any unclaimed property?
Before you pay anyone anything for unclaimed property, go to the state website at www.michigan.gov and search “unclaimed property”. Or Google “MI unclaimed property” and you will be directed to the appropriate www.michigan.gov web page. Another alternative is to go to the state web page directly at https://www.michigan.gov/treasury/0,4679,7-121-44435—,00.html. The state website has links to other web pages where you can search variations of your name for property abandoned in Michigan.
You should check the unclaimed property lists of any state in which you have resided. Links to all the state unclaimed property lists can be found on the FDIC website at https://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/unclaimed-property-states.html or on a website set up by NAUPA for state and provincial governments at http://www.missingmoney.com/. Although there is no national unclaimed property database, most states have most of their unclaimed property databases linked to http://www.missingmoney.com/, so you can do a somewhat national search on one website.
If you find that you may have abandoned property that has been submitted to the state, then there is an Unclaimed Property Inquiry form on the state website that you can fill out and mail to the state Treasury Department. If the Treasury Department determines that the property or funds are yours, the state then sends you another form that you submit with additional identifying information and proof that the property was yours. When the state receives the claim form, it is reviewed. If the claim is deemed valid, the Department of Treasury will cut you a check.
While you are on the state website doing the searching, don’t just search for yourself. Also search for other names. If Aunt Bessie has died, search for unclaimed property under her name. If you find something, it may be worth your while to pursue it if you can prove you are Aunt Bessie’s heir or beneficiary.
For example, a number of years ago, we were involved in a situation in which a woman found the name of her deceased’s sister-in-law on the state website. The sister-in-law had been deceased for almost two decades and the sister-in-law’s only heir was her only sibling, her brother. The brother survived his sister and was also now deceased. The brother had no children, so his only heir was the woman who was his surviving spouse. After filing the forms with the state, including proof of heirship, the woman received nearly $50,000. The funds came from her sister-in-law’s State of Michigan retirement pension accumulation account which had no named beneficiary and had never previously been claimed by anyone.
We recently assisted another woman in claiming property that was jointly tilted with her mother. Her mother had a bit of ATT stock in the 1980’s and put her daughter’s name on the stock as joint owner. After the ATT break up, stock was issued to them in all of the Baby Bells. Some of the stock was held in certificate form and some was held in dividend reinvestment accounts. Before Mom died in the 1990’s , a couple of the Baby Bells had merged together. Mom did not tell her family about the stock, and it was deposited as unclaimed property with the state and eventually sold. It took the better part of a year with our assistance to claim the property back from the state. We had to locate and identify about 15 unclaimed stocks and the stock transfer agents at the time the stocks were deposited with the state. Among other things, we had to submit proof to the state that mother and daughter jointly owned the stocks with printouts from the stock transfer agents. It was worth it though, since the recovered property totaled more than $30,000.
You may receive a letter from the Department of Treasury notifying you that unclaimed property in your name has been submitted to the state. Complete the form and send it in. What have you got to lose? You may just be entitled to your abandoned property.
However, if you receive a letter from some company saying they have found unclaimed property of yours, watch out. They do not tell you what the property is or how much you can expect to recover. They may keep half of the proceeds recovered as their fee. You look at their agreement and it requests all kinds of personal information, including your social security number. Be careful of these letters as they may likely be scams to acquire your personal information for identity theft purposes.
If you have some time, check out the states’ and NAUPA’s unclaimed property websites. Do some modern day treasure hunting. You just might get lucky and find something.
By Matthew M. Wallace, CPA, JD
Published edited June 3, 2018 in The Times Herald newspaper Port Huron, Michigan as: Some kinds of treasure hunting do pay off