Kathy Ricci’s family recently found out you don’t necessarily have to go to Vegas for an unexpected windfall.
Her sister-in-law saw a news report about unclaimed property in Utah and looked up Ricci’s mother, who died in 2001, on the state’s database. And there it was under her mother’s name: a small insurance policy fund she and her five siblings didn’t know about.
A few legal documents to prove their identity and less than two weeks later, Ricci got a $611.48 check in the mail.
“It was like, so there’s my car repair,” Ricci said of her share of the payout.
Unknown insurance policies, dormant bank accounts, checks that are never cashed and the contents from inactive safe deposit boxes all funnel into the state’s Unclaimed Property Division, part of the state Treasurer’s Office.
From war medals to certificates of deposit to money orders, unclaimed cash and miscellaneous items in Utah now total over $350 million, says division administrator Dennis Johnston, noting unclaimed collections in the state have grown 170 percent over the past nine years. Nationally, forgotten money and property adds up to more than $58 billion.
“Unclaimed property receipts are growing faster than the population of Utah,” Johnston said.
He attributes the growth to society’s increasing mobility. “People are moving more and more and their money isn’t following them.”
Johnston says the state makes repeated attempts to contact the rightful owners of property via mail, email and phone calls, often with success. In fact, the state returned more than $14 million in unclaimed property during fiscal year 2012.
But he admits it’s often tough convincing people this is not a scam, that the money or property is theirs and that claiming it is free.
“One of our challenges is closing the credibility gap,” Johnston said. “In this day and age of identity theft and fraud, it’s a real concern to people to disclose their identities to us over the phone or email.”
Before giving any personal information, he encourages people to do their due diligence of the division, to check out the unclaimed property website or call 801-715-3300 with questions. And he advises people to update their addresses and contact their financial institutions every three years to prevent their property from being absorbed by his office.
Johnston says his office has processed claims as small as $5, but the largest amount he’s seen was a $600,000 retirement account whose owner thought was still accruing interest. Because of inactivity, the account had been turned in to the state.
“It was really difficult to reach this person,” Johnston said. “Fortunately, I joined an online forum where I knew he was active and I got a hold of him.”
Claiming your money or the funds or property of a loved one is relatively simple: Search under a name on mine.utah.gov, submit a claim and prove you are who you say you are. That’s done with proper ID and supporting documents such as payroll checks, tax forms, insurance policies or employment contracts.
In Ricci’s case, each sibling had to provide identification and a copy of her mother’s death certificate.
“They do some verification, but it was pretty slick,” she said.
Utah’s lost and found
O To check if you or a family member has unclaimed property, visit mine.utah.gov and start searching. The service is free.
You can also call 801-715-3300.
Be prepared to provide supporting documents, such as ID and tax forms.
There is no time limit on claims. Cash and miscellany stay under the state’s care until it is claimed.