You can keep your eyes to the ground, scrounge through the couch and shake the piggy bank for extra change, or you can hope a long-lost relative left you those penny stocks that nobody thought would mature into a couple million dollars.
More than $57 million of unclaimed property was returned to their rightful owners in Arizona last year, anywhere from under $1 to more than $2 million in one claim, said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Revenue.
That’s the state agency responsible for the collection, safeguarding and distribution of unclaimed property totaling millions of dollars to thousands of rightful owners.
“People a lot of time are not aware they’re entitled to this,” Greenberg said. “It’s not our money. It’s heirs, or people when they moved away, there’s money or property that belongs to them. What it comes down to first and foremost is that we have a responsibility to return the money back to the rightful owner.”
In the past six years, the agency has returned more unclaimed property than in the previous four decades combined, he noted.
More realistic than an unknown million-dollar inheritance from a distant relative is the possibility of lost financial information.
Often property becomes unclaimed because a company that holds funds has an outdated address for its customer or former employee.
“We’re talking money, not major items like cars or a house,” Greenberg said. “Dollars that have been sitting in old bank accounts, uncashed payroll checks, tax refunds, credit balances, rebates, returned deposits. In some cases, a person passes away without the family being aware of assets in place since the 1950s.”
Unclaimed property generally consists of money, but there are also valuable items such as gold coins, war medals and jewelry left in safe deposit boxes for years.
Most accounts from financial institutions or companies are considered abandoned and turned over to the Arizona Department of Revenue after a certain period of inactivity.
“When it comes to safe deposit boxes, the contents are transferred to the department where items such as antique jewelry, old currency and other property are stored in a secure vault,” Greenberg said.
The contents of safe deposit boxes are considered abandoned when they remain unclaimed for three years after the rental period on the box has expired, at which time they’re turned over to the state, where they’re held for two more years.
After that time, a notice of sale is published and the items are sold at public auction. The proceeds from the sale are held in perpetuity for the owner.
There is no time limit or deadline to file for unclaimed property, Greenberg noted. The unclaimed property program has been in place since the 1950s, and some of the property that remains unclaimed has been held for 30 to 40 years.
Arizona Department of Revenue tries to track down owners of unclaimed property by sending out tens of thousands of letters and notices every year to people entitled to unclaimed assets. The agency advertises in newspapers and works with other states to research and find these owners.
ADOR has a process for owners to search and provide documentation showing their right to claim the property.
Greenberg said there’s about $23 million in unclaimed property identified for people with last known addresses in Mohave County.