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What is Abandoned Property?

Abandoned property, often overlooked and misunderstood, refers to dormant accounts, unused assets, or neglected properties that have been turned over to the state after a period of inactivity or negligence. State governments have established abandoned property divisions to manage and recover unclaimed assets, following a legally defined dormancy period. This article will delve into the concept of abandoned property, explore its types, highlight the benefits of escheatment, and discuss the process of reclaiming such assets.

Understanding Abandoned Property 

When a property or asset is registered as unclaimed, it undergoes a specific period known as the dormancy period. This period varies from state to state, typically ranging from two to five years, during which the asset must remain inactive before it is legally deemed abandoned and transferred to the state. Each state has its own laws and regulations governing the criteria for determining abandonment and the subsequent recovery process.

Abandoned Property Types 

Abandoned property encompasses a wide range of tangible and intangible assets. It includes real estate, land, and safe deposit boxes, as well as financial assets such as life insurance policies, unpaid wages, and securities held in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. The variety of assets that can be considered abandoned underscores the importance of understanding this concept and its potential implications for individuals and organizations alike.

Benefits of Abandoned Property

Contrary to initial perceptions, abandoned property laws were instituted to protect consumers and streamline the process of reclaiming unclaimed funds. By transferring unclaimed assets to the state, individuals are provided with a centralized channel for recovering their rightful property. Previously, these assets would remain with financial institutions or other entities, making it challenging for owners or their heirs to locate and claim them. Furthermore, if an asset remains unclaimed for an extended period, escheatment ensures that it benefits the public rather than enriching private entities.

Reclaiming Abandoned Property

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) plays a crucial role in assisting consumers with the recovery of unclaimed property assets. Through a partnership with state organizations, NAUPA has established a comprehensive database that allows individuals to search for unclaimed property across various U.S. states. State-sponsored websites also facilitate the process of locating and reclaiming abandoned assets.

Owners of abandoned property can reclaim their assets by filing a claim with the appropriate state. State governments have dedicated processes in place to actively locate the owners of unclaimed property, employing various means of communication to establish contact. It is worth noting that only a portion of unclaimed property is reclaimed each year, providing additional revenue for states.

Escheatment and Financial Accounts

The concept of escheatment extends beyond tangible assets; it also applies to financial accounts. Investment accounts, savings accounts, bank CDs, and employee 401(k) accounts can all become assets of the state if they are deemed abandoned. Broker-dealer firms, employers, or banks are required to make reasonable efforts to contact the account owner. If there has been no contact for an extended period, typically five years, the account may be liquidated and transferred to the state where it was held.

Summary

Most people think of an abandoned car or even a house when abandoned property is mentioned, but it also applies to investment accounts.

If physical property such as a car is left for a long enough time in a public space or privately owned space such as a storage building, the property can be deemed abandoned and the person who discovers it can become the new owner.

Through a process called escheatment, investment accounts, savings accounts, bank CDs, and employee 401(k) accounts can all become assets of the state if they are determined to be abandoned.

A broker-dealer firm, employer, or bank must make all reasonable effort to contact the owner of the account, and if it has been more than 5 years since the owner was in contact with the firm, employer, or bank, the account will be liquidated and become an asset of the state in which the account was held.

There are several websites whose purpose is to help the account owner locate the appropriate contact within a state government who may be able to settle the account for the owner. The state will ask for proof of identity and then pay the account owner the amount which was in the account at the time of escheatment.

Some banks and broker-dealers also charge an inactive account fee, perhaps as a method of encouraging the account owner to keep up with their assets. After all, if the client forgets about them, the bank or broker-dealer will have to give the assets to the state.

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Disclaimers and Limitations

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