Unclaimed Funds Accounts Grow in New York

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 6, 2014

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From pop stars to mafia dons to governors, the state of New York has reported a record list of individuals forgoing money to the state’s unclaimed property fund.  Over 31 million owners have accounts held by New York State as unclaimed property, and the number is growing annually.  From uncashed refund checks to undelivered final paychecks, unclaimed money has accumulated by the millions, leaving the state with a potentially significant financial windfall.

New York’s Unclaimed Fund Bucket Grows

Five years ago, the New York unclaimed property fund sat at $9.9 billion, but with continued growth in the amount of money forfeited to the state, the current worth is $13.3 billion with over $700 million added last year.  Accounts surrendered to the state by banks, insurers, utility companies represent a collection of lost wages, rebates, forgotten savings accounts and other pools of money that the rightful owner declined to collect.  After reasonable – but not extensive – efforts to find the rightful owners, including phone calls, business mailings, and even publishing information in local papers, businesses and financial institutions are required by law to sign over inactive funds to New York’s unclaimed property account where the money will sit until a valid claim is made.

With limited exception, New York does not make an effort to find the rightful owner beyond simply publicizing the list of accounts, requiring seekers of unclaimed funds to enter personal information into an official website in order to access money owed.  Although more than half of the 31 million individuals with unclaimed money can collect less than $100, the largest payout in recent record was $4 million in 2008, and currently an account worth $1.7 million sits unclaimed.  Sean Combs, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Madoff, Bruce Springsteen, and members of the Gambino crime family sit among the millions of owners who have unclaimed money in New York, and represent only a portion of the rich and famous who have not made the effort to access their accounts.

Reclaiming Funds a Simple Process

Money goes unclaimed for a variety of reasons – people die, move without leaving a forwarding address, forget about bank or saving accounts, neglect to cash in on retail or rebate checks, or fail to collect their final paycheck when leaving a job.  Safe deposit boxes, estate proceeds, gift certificates, utility refunds, and brokerage accounts can easily go unnoticed during times of transition, leaving businesses with little option other than to hand the forgotten money over to the state to manage.

Reclaiming money is a simple process – one simply needs to visit the website for the Office of New York’s Comptroller and fill out the online form to confirm identity.  There is no charge to recovering the money. Over $420 million was claimed last year, and more than $230 million has been distributed thus far in 2014.  State comptroller Thomas DiNapli encourages other New Yorkers to conduct a simple search on the department’s website for their name, and complete the necessary forms should a search indicate money is available.  Cities and municipalities are also potential recipients of unclaimed money, with a similarly easy process of recovery.

Unclaimed Money across the Country

Of course, New York is not the only state with growing unclaimed property funds.  The national accumulation of unclaimed accounts sits at $62 billion, with states all across the country holding onto money that is lost or forgotten.  In Washington DC, even Barack Obama at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is listed as a potential recipient of unclaimed funds – proving that anyone, anywhere, could be unknowingly letting money pass them by. 

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