We’ve all heard those stories on the local TV news about someone discovering thousands of dollars being held in his or her name in an unclaimed property account. In the case of William Zisson, it was $48,667.65 from an old insurance policy.
“I was more than pleased — I was happy and appreciative,” recalled Mr. Zisson, “I didn’t have any clue that I had any unclaimed property.”
Mr. Zisson was especially shocked because he considered himself well informed about his money matters. “I thought, ‘I know what my accounts are,’ he said. “But I didn’t know about the very quirky thing that happened: just as my original insurance company was being sold to the other insurance company, I was moving from one address in The Woodlands to another. I assume the new company tried to reach me, but they didn’t have my new forwarding address.”
Discovering forgotten accounts actually happens more often than most people realize, says Glenn Hegar, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. And Hegar would know. As Texas Comptroller, Hegar is the chief steward of the Lone Star State’s finances, acting as tax collector, chief accountant, chief revenue estimator and chief treasurer for all state government. He also administers the state’s $4 billion unclaimed property program.
“Think of how many times you’ve reached into your own coat pocket and found a $5 bill you don’t remember putting there,” says Hegar. “It’s a little like that. People are busy — they’re working, they have family responsibilities and life events. They get caught up in what’s happening around them, and they forget about these accounts and transactions and deposits, or they think all their accounts have been zeroed out. And that’s where our office comes in.”
Texas requires institutions, businesses and governmental entities to report to the state any personal property that has been abandoned or unclaimed for as many as five years, depending on the property in question. Returning that property to its rightful owners is one of the duties of the Comptroller’s office, which estimates one in four Texans has money waiting to be claimed.
“As Comptroller, one of my jobs is to get that $4 billion in unclaimed property back in the hands of those who earned it,” says Hegar. “I encourage Texans to ‘Come and get it!’ and search for their money online at ClaimItTexas.org or contact my office to claim their rightful property.”
Unclaimed property can represent dividends, payroll or cashier’s checks, abandoned bank accounts and safety deposit box contents, insurance proceeds, mineral interests, rebates, overpayment of utility bills and more.
Since the program’s inception 53 years ago, the Comptroller’s office has returned more than $2 billion in unclaimed property to its rightful owners. But as impressive as that is, $4 billion is still sitting in the Texas Unclaimed Property account, a pile that grows daily as new unclaimed accounts roll into the Comptroller’s office.
Hegar says a few simple steps can help prevent your name from ending up in the state’s unclaimed property database.
• Open and study your bank statements. Your bank may be trying to alert you that your account is about to be closed. And no account, not even those opened for minors, is exempt from abandonment laws.
• Communicate with your financial institutions. Check your accounts at least once a year to make sure your bank considers them active. Respond promptly to requests for confirmation of account balances and stockholder proxies.
• Cash that check now! Cash or deposit all checks issued to you as soon as possible. Some may not be valid indefinitely, even if there’s no “deposit by” date on the check. Cash all checks for dividends, wages, mineral interests or royalty payments, escrow accounts, insurance settlements and others without delay.
• Making your move? Be sure to change your address with the U.S. Postal Service or your local post office, so that all checks, rebates and any other correspondence will be forwarded to your new home or office.
• Changing jobs? Make sure your past and present employers have your current address on file for any payroll or reimbursement checks.
• Document your financial records. Make sure all your assets are listed in your estate. Keep accurate financial records and record all insurance policies, bank accounts with numbers, bank names and addresses, stock certificates, oil and gas royalties and rent and utility deposits. If you have a safe-deposit box, record the box number, bank name and address and give the extra key to a trusted person. Always make sure there’s a person who knows where to find your lists and current financial records.
• Make a will. LexisNexis reports that more than half of American adults have no will or estate plan in place. A will is vital to avoid future confusion and ensure your assets are distributed the way you want. Keep your will with your other important lists and documents. And again, make sure someone you trust knows where to find your last will and testament.
• Back it up. Computer hard drives fail. Papers get lost. Create backup copies of your financial records and your last will and testament, and store them safely on a backup hard drive or secured cloud account. In the case of paper records in a safe or safe-deposit box, make sure someone you trust has access.
To search for unclaimed property, visit ClaimItTexas.org or call 1-800-654-FIND (3463). Searching online and starting a claim takes only a few minutes, and videos on the website will show how to locate and claim unclaimed property.
ClaimItTexas.org is updated frequently, so unclaimed property can surface at any time. The Comptroller’s office encourages Texans to search for unclaimed property at least once a year.
As for Mr. Zisson, his newly claimed money has already gone back to work for him. “I’ve popped it into an account and used it to make investments,” he says — the difference being that, this time, he knows exactly where it is.