- OLYMPIA – Across the country, states are holding billions of dollars worth of unreturned security deposits, stocks and unclaimed wages, waiting for the money’s rightful owners to appear.
In Washington and Idaho, more than $1.3 billion dollars in cash is being held as “unclaimed property” – money from dormant checking or savings accounts, business overpayments or physical contents from bank safe deposit boxes.
Patti Wilson, unclaimed property administrator with the Washington Department of Revenue, said her office acts as a “custodian” for unclaimed money, helping people find what is legally theirs.
“It’s a consumer protection program that benefits the public,” Wilson said. “Because if unclaimed property didn’t exist, whether it’s here in Washington state or any other state, then these individuals may never know about this money.”
Idaho State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth said people often think of unclaimed property as some kind of scam, but that is just not the case.
“Quite frankly, I would think it was a scam if I didn’t see the credentials of a constitutional officer on it,” Ellsworth said. “It sounds too good to be true – but it is true … I will stamp the treasurer’s stamp on it.”
According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, a majority of unclaimed property is in the form of money from inactive bank accounts, uncashed checks and lost insurance payments. Sometimes, states are also responsible for physical items like safe deposit box contents and even gift certificates. Real estate, vehicles and most other forms of physical property do not count as unclaimed property.
As people move around, they lose contact with the banks, doctor’s offices and insurance companies that they have done business with. After a certain period of time holding onto dormant property, organizations and businesses are required to turn it over to the state where the owner was last known to live. It then becomes the responsibility of the state treasurer’s office or another government agency to connect the unclaimed property with its true owner.
The unclaimed property departments in Washington and Idaho, along with those across the country, maintain online public databases of the property received, who owns it and how much it is worth. When an individual files a claim for the listed property, the office will work to confirm they are the legitimate owner of the property before disbursing it.
“It’s all about, as a custodian, making sure that we are holding the money and when we return it, that we’re returning it to the rightful owner,” Wilson said. “And if the owner is deceased, making sure those that are coming forward are the rightful heirs to that owner or are entitled to claiming that property.”
According to the Department of Revenue, Washington state has returned over $1.2 billion in cash to people across the state and has over $1 billion in its possession. Of that billion dollars available, $66.5 million belongs to people whose last known address was in Spokane County. The county is in the top five with large amounts of money to be returned – King County leads the way with $539.2 million awaiting its owners.
In Idaho, the numbers are smaller, with over $13 million returned and almost $152 million waiting for its real owners – with $15.5 million belonging to people whose last known address was in Kootenai County, the third largest amount in the state.
Ellsworth said the statistics fluctuate as more money is reunited with owners and as new unclaimed property is turned over to the state. The population of a given area also plays a role in how much unclaimed property is available, she said.
A big part of connecting people with their property is outreach. Ellsworth said she promotes Idaho’s unclaimed property initiatives whenever she meets with people and government officials across the state. Wilson said the Department of Revenue will be at this summer’s Hoopfest with a booth and sponsoring two courts to promote their services and efforts to get money out the door.
Individuals looking to see if they have unclaimed property can go to their state’s official unclaimed property website: claimyourcash.org in Washington, or yourmoney.idaho.gov in Idaho. Both Ellsworth and Wilson said anyone who previously lived in another state should check that state’s official website as well.
They also said it is worth it to regularly check the databases. Even if a person has little to no money ready for them right now, records are always being updated and could reveal additional amounts of money in the future, they said.
“They may not have any unclaimed property today, but we’re adding names to the database pretty much year round, and we receive new reports every fall,” Wilson said. “Or even if you have claimed it before, there might be more property that’s reported for someone.”
“It’s little bits here and there, or sometimes a big, huge one, so it’s worth your time to always check it out,” Ellsworth said. “If it’s not worth your trouble, leave it for a while and check back in a year. It can accumulate, then we can do all one claim at once.”
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