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Property is generally deemed to have been abandoned if it is found in a place where the true owner likely intended to leave it, but is in such a condition that it is apparent that the true owner has no intention of returning to claim the item. Abandoned property generally becomes the property of whoever should find it and take possession of it first, although some states have enacted statutes under which certain kinds of abandoned property – usually cars, wrecked ships and wrecked aircraft – escheat, meaning that they become the property of the state.
In the United States, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws sought to address the problems arising from these types of property through provisions of the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act. The act was first drafted and promulgated in 1981 and was revised in 1995. The act specifically focuses on the problem of unclaimed money in bank accounts and corporate coffers, and the escheatment thereof.
As a result of the Act, each state operates an Unclaimed Property fund in which the proceeds from abandoned bank accounts, unpresented checks, etc. are to be turned over to the state after a specified period of time. Depending on state law, the money may be held either in perpetuity (i.e., the funds never escheat to the state; an example would be Texas), or after a long period of time (whereby it is presumed that the owner is deceased with no heirs) the funds will escheat to the state.
What is unclaimed property?
Unclaimed property (sometimes referred to as abandoned) refers to accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity generated or contact with the owner for one year or a longer period. Common forms of unclaimed property include savings or checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler’s checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states), insurance payments or refunds and life insurance policies, annuities, certificates of deposit, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, mineral royalty payments, and contents of safe deposit boxes.
What happens to these accounts that have no activity?
Acting in the best interest of consumers, each state has enacted an unclaimed property statute that protects your funds from reverting back to the company if you have lost contact with them. These laws instruct companies to turn forgotten funds over to a state official who will then make a diligent effort to find you or your heirs. Most states hold lost funds until you are found, returning them to you at no cost or for a nominal handling fee upon filing a claim form and verification of your identity. Since it is impossible to store and maintain all of the contents that are turned over from safe deposit boxes, most states hold periodic auctions and hold the funds obtained from the sale of the items for the owner. Some states also sell stocks and bonds and return the proceeds to the owner in the same manner.
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