1) You may be entitled to money held by the state.
Have you ever received a letter from a law firm or private investigator informing you of unclaimed property or cash and offering help? Last year, I got such a letter from Californian private investigator. Sensing a scam and having never heard of such a thing, my investigation began. The private investigator’s website seemed suspicious and after googling “unclaimed property,” I found that states hold unclaimed funds until the owners claim them. It is a completely legitimate part of state government, but a private investigator is not necessary in most cases.
2) What is unclaimed property?
While unclaimed property might refer to a piece of land or personal property, more often, it means cash. Generally, it consists of utility deposits, insurance policy proceeds, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and contents of safe deposit boxes, to name a few, that have been “abandoned.” Often, the owner does not even know about the unclaimed property. Due to an address change or incorrect address, a company can sometimes lose track of consumers. In North Carolina, these funds are turned over, or escheated, to the Department of State Treasurer after a proscribed period of time.
In my case, I lived in California for in 2010. When I moved back to North Carolina in 2011, Blue Cross & Blue Shield lost track of me, likely due to my failure to change the address they had on file. Eventually, by law, it was required to turn over abandoned property to the state entity designated to oversee the funds. Private investigators or law firms sometimes scour these records and contact those individuals offering their services.
3) North Carolina uses the interest off the unclaimed property for a good cause.
While the state waits for property owners to claim their property, North Carolina General Statute 116B-7 provides for the interest on the money, minus administrative expenses, to go to the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA). This program administers post-secondary education programs of student financial assistance. It provides grants and low-interest loans to North Carolina students in need of financial assistance to pursue their higher education goals. This program assisted 79,647 students in state-sponsored educational institutions in 2016 alone.
4) North Carolina has hundreds of millions of dollars in unclaimed property.
In the third quarter of 2016, there were 18,486 claims totaling $13,633,799 in property returned to their rightful owners. The total claims for the 2016-2017 fiscal year was 50,685. The amount of those claims amounted to $38,137,409. It is worth noting those amounts are only what was actually claimed. According to their website, there is approximately $440 million worth of unclaimed property currently being held by the NC Treasury Department.
5) You can claim it yourself in minutes for free.
All it takes to claim one’s property is the completion of a short, online form. Every state handles these matters differently, but in North Carolina, a person searches their unclaimed property using their name and the website show their possible matches. If the person sees their name associated with one of their legitimate former addresses, they simply add the piece of property to their shopping cart and check out by providing some identifying information. There is no charge from the State of North Carolina to claim property. However, hiring someone to collect it on one’s behalf will result in fees.
6) There is no time limit to claim unclaimed property.
While there is a limit to how long a company can hold unclaimed property before it must turn it over to the state, there is actually no limit on how long rightful owners of unclaimed property have to claim it from the State Treasurer. Even once a person is deceased, the deceased person’s estate retains the right to claim it as long as there is proper documentation of the authority to do so.
To search for unclaimed property in North Carolina, click here.
To search for unclaimed property in states other than North Carolina, click here.
7) Private investigators offering their assistance are not a scam, per se, but also not generally necessary.
In the end, the private investigator was not trying to scam me, he merely wanted my business. If a person has a great deal of unclaimed property or moves around a lot, it may be worth hiring someone to do the paperwork, especially if those moves were across state lines. Keep in mind those providing these services will charge a fee, generally a percentage, of the money recovered. That percentage can be as high as 50%. However, if only one entity turned over the unclaimed property to a state, it is worth taking approximately five minutes to do it yourself rather than pay someone a percentage of money which is legally and rightfully yours.
At Lindley Law, we are not in the business of tracking down our clients’ unclaimed property, but we are in the business of making sure our clients and consumers, as a whole, understand their rights when it comes to their property and hard-earned money. To learn more about our firm, please visit us at www.lindleylawoffice.com.