What is Unclaimed Property?

Any financial item that has been abandoned or unclaimed by the legitimate owner for an extended period is known as unclaimed property. In a nutshell, this property must either be returned to the owner or turned over to the government. If not handled properly, unclaimed property may be costly. Therefore, it’s important for organizations to understand how a property might become unclaimed and what measures your company may need to take to deal with it.

Unclaimed property is usually not taxed while it is still unclaimed. Legal owners of such property can reclaim through processes established by the states. However, when it is recovered, the property may be formally recognized as taxable income. Examples of unclaimed Property include; dividends, uncashed payroll checks, customer overpayments, royalty payments, estate proceeds, and inactive stocks. Bank accounts that haven’t had any action for a very long time are also considered as unclaimed property.  

How Does property become Unclaimed?
There are several reasons why property could become unclaimed. In some situations, the property’s owner may have just forgot about it, died, or abandoned it. An employee’s termination, an owner’s change of residence without notification, or the owners’ departure from a place where a deposit was needed can result in unclaimed property. Businesses that possess this property may be aware of their existence but believe the property is too small to warrant their attention. This may appear to be a minor error, but it may end up costing them a lot of money in the long term. 

What should you do if your business has unclaimed property? 
• Identify any property that is unclaimed
• Notify the legal owner or return the unclaimed property to them 
• Remit the unclaimed property to the state if the owner can’t be located

Rules surrounding unclaimed property
1. A corporation can be subject to the state’s unclaimed property laws even though it has no physical presence in the state.
2. Audits might cover a period of 10–30 years. Because most firms don’t retain records for so long, auditors must rely on statistical estimations to fill in the gaps. The burden of proof is once again on the property owner to show that these estimations are incorrect. With no rebuttable documents for early years like 1981, the firm will have a tough time proving.
3. Third-party auditors frequently have numerous contracts with different governments, which can result in highly aggressive and costly audits that can take up to 3-5 years to complete.
4. In most unclaimed property audits, there are no administrative appeal processes. A company must either pay the tax, interest, and penalties or face legal action.
5. Interest and penalties for non-compliance might add up to almost as much as the value of the unclaimed item.

Unclaimed Property in Financial Institutions
Unclaimed property concerns can arise in financial organizations such as banks and credit unions. Many financial institutions are decentralized, and they provide a wide range of products and services that cut across industries. Keeping track of all of this activity, especially at institutions with commercial activities, may be difficult.

It’s not often clear when the last contact took place or what constitutes appropriate contact. The property owner’s explicit or implied recognition of the account’s existence, as well as their desire for the account to stay current and active, might be proof of contact. This is particularly problematic for decentralized financial institutions with customers who have several accounts and reside in multiple places. These problems must be addressed, and one way to do so is to devise a strategy for monitoring and remitting unclaimed property.

Unclaimed property can also be found in a dormant account that has had no activity for a long time, except posting interest. The contract must identify the different charges with particular reference to inactive accounts in order for these costs to be considered legitimate. The issue of client communication via other accounts must be examined once more.

Importance of Compliance in Unclaimed Property
States are ramping up their unclaimed property enforcement operations, and if your company isn’t in compliance, there might be serious penalties. If you fail to turn over all unclaimed property, there is no statute of limitations on unclaimed property audits, which means the state can come knocking at any moment, and it can be extremely costly. With federal and sates economies in disorder, organizations need to realize that compliance is more important than ever. 

Reclaiming Property
Because the federal government does not have a single website for discovering unclaimed property, the process for reclaiming unclaimed differs by state. The majority of state websites follow a similar structure and are often easy to use. The comptroller’s office is generally the official agency in charge of keeping track of unclaimed property. Unclaimed property funds may be absorbed and utilized to cover governmental running costs. Unclaimed property funds, on the other hand, are almost invariably recorded as a debt owed to the property owner. Unclaimed property accounts may be searched using criteria such as first and last names, business names, ZIP codes, and the location where the property is located.

Dormancy Period
The dormancy period is the interval between when a financial institution reports an account or asset as unclaimed and when the government considers it abandoned. The dormancy period is five years in most states. When a property is declared abandoned or unclaimed by the state, it goes through a procedure known as escheatment. Until the legitimate owner lodges a claim, the state assumes ownership of the property. Depending on the state, the comptroller or state treasury office may try to track out the legal owner of unclaimed property. Notifications may be mailed to the last reported address of home or work.

States created escheatment statutes to regulate the process of preventing unclaimed assets from being turned over to banking institutions. State escheatment rules oblige businesses to transfer unclaimed property from inactive accounts to the state general fund, which manages record-keeping and returns the lost or forgotten property to owners or their heirs if the owner has died.