The process for reclaiming unclaimed or escheated property varies by state, as the federal government does not have a central website for finding unclaimed property. Most state websites are similar in format and typically fairly simple to navigate. The office of the comptroller is usually the official agency tasked with managing the list of unclaimed property. Funds associated with unclaimed property may be absorbed and used in state operating expenses, but unclaimed property funds are nearly universally kept track of as debt to the property owner on record. Queries for unclaimed property accounts can include criteria such as first and last name, business name, ZIP code and city associated with the property.
Unclaimed property is essentially property that has gone unclaimed beyond the dormancy period. The dormancy period is the amount of time between when a financial institution reports an account or asset as unclaimed and when the government deems that account or asset to be abandoned.
For most states, the dormancy period is five years. When property is officially designated by the state as abandoned or unclaimed, it undergoes a process known as escheatment, where the state assumes ownership of that property until the rightful owner files a claim.
Depending on the state, the office of the comptroller or state treasury may make attempts to locate the rightful owner of unclaimed property. Methods may include mailing notifications to the last listed address of residence or employment. Property can often go unclaimed when the owner fails to report a new mailing address so this method can be less successful. States may also subscribe to online contact databases that could have more up-to-date information.
Types of Unclaimed Property
Types of unclaimed property include uncashed payroll checks, inactive stocks, court funds, dividends, checking and saving accounts, and estate proceeds. When property accounts go unclaimed, they are turned over to the state for reasons that may include the death of the account holder, a failure to register a forwarding address after changing residence or simply forgetting about an account.
New York State collected $700 million in revenue from unclaimed property in 2013. While this number is higher than average, the amount of revenue derived by states from misplaced accounts totals more than $62 billion nationwide. Data indicates 50% of unclaimed accounts hold less than $100, but there is no limit to account size.
In 2014, Texas returned more than $200 million to owners of previously unclaimed property, with an average claim amount of $1,000. Many claims are much higher, but none are worth close to the $12.5 million of an abandoned stock claim returned in 2015.
Unclaimed property is not taxed while it is filed as unclaimed; however, when it is reclaimed, the property may be officially recognized as taxable income. Some unclaimed funds such as investments from a 401(k) or an IRA can be reclaimed tax-free.