According to the state treasurer, one in ten Pennsylvanians has unclaimed property that can be applied for. While more and more residents are becoming aware of the process of searching for unclaimed property, the process of finding unclaimed money and property can be daunting and very time consuming.
Unclaimed Property Search
Since we regularly help people with claims paperwork, we know what the process entails. The claims process begins with a search, requesting a claim form, and furnishing documents such as death certificates, affidavits, proof of address, POA documents, and other evidentiary documents requested by the Bureau of Unclaimed Property.
The department then reviews claims documents, which can take months or even years to complete.
Property Escheated to the State
Though it is possible to re-claim property that has been escheated (property deemed lost, abandoned or unclaimed and then turned over) to the state, it is important to try to understand when escheatment occurs to avoid having to go through this process in the first place. This saves you not only time, but also from potential losses in value that might occur as a result of escheatment.
Holders of property, such as financial institutions, are required to send due diligence notifications to the owners of any property before escheating it.
Holders of property subject to escheatment are bound by the state’s rules regarding dormancy periods and must turn over any “abandoned” property to the state after a specified period. In Pennsylvania, the dormancy period is most often 3 years, but can vary based on the type of property (e.g. 2 years for wages or commissions, 7 years for money orders).
For example, suppose you have stock certificates in a safe. If you move to another house and forget to notify your stock transfer agent, it is possible that your stock transfer agent might lose contact with you. If the stocks (which are generally sold immediately, often at a loss) are turned over to the state after the dormancy period, you would have to go through the process of filing a claim for the value of the stocks when they were sold. This is a waste of time and could cost you any gains that you may have earned had the stocks not been escheated.
The same scenario can play out if a financial institution such as a bank has not contacted you for several years. If they never receive updated contact information and mail is being returned to them, an account may be deemed lost, or a safe-deposit box considered abandoned, at which point the contents would be escheated to the state. This scenario is particularly concerning with priceless tangible property kept in a safe deposit box, which the state will liquidate after three years, rendering it impossible to recover.
Keep Your Estate Planning Up to Date
It is important as a part of your estate planning process to keep a list of all financial institutions with whom you do business, including banks, brokers, transfer agents and insurance companies. Review this list and update it regularly (at least once per year) and include it with your other important estate planning documents such as a living trust or a will so that your family members will know where to locate it when it is needed.
When compiling this list, take the time to reach out to the institutions that you don’t deal with regularly to make sure that they have your current address and telephone number. It is wise to note the last time that you’ve reached out to each institution, so that you can remember to touch base every year or so.
Protect Your Assets From Being Escheated
Remember that while your financial institutions are required to perform due diligence efforts to contact you before escheatment occurs, they are still required by law to report abandoned property.
Keeping your accounts active by updating your contact information, making a transaction, logging in to online banking services, or even calling customer service, will help you protect your assets and prevent future headaches and loss that can occur when assets are turned over to the state.
Finding unclaimed money and property can be daunting and very time consuming. Save yourself time now and potential losses in the future by knowing when escheatment occurs and how to prevent your property from being deemed lost, abandoned or unclaimed and then turned over to the state.