Unclaimed property could be click away

The 448-page section that comes with Friday's Delaware State News lists owners of unclaimed property in Delaware. In stores, copies will be stacked near newsstands. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

The 448-page section that comes with Friday’s Delaware State News lists owners of unclaimed property in Delaware. In stores, copies will be stacked near newsstands. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Every year, the state of Delaware publishes a list of unclaimed property, giving individuals or businesses a chance to reclaim stocks, bonds, utility payments and bank accounts that may have been forgotten. This year’s list — 448 pages — is included with today’s Delaware State News.

It will be delivered with the newspaper, or if you purchase a copy at a store, it will be stacked next to the newspaper rack.

A check or stock may not be claimed for a number of reasons. The recipient could have forgotten. Perhaps the owner moved away. Maybe he or she died.

One example is an employee who quits a company and does not receive the final paycheck. That check can go uncashed for years, but it never becomes the business’s property.

It’s the company’s responsibility to try to track down the recipient. If it can’t, that money becomes the state’s property after five years (three for stocks). Never fear, though: the state will reimburse the owner as long as he or she provides proper documentation, and there is no statute of limitations.

Abandoned property is a major moneymaker for the state: In fiscal year 2015, it funded Delaware’s government to the tune of $514 million. Only personal income tax and the franchise tax generated more revenue for the General Fund.

Unclaimed property is projected to total $554 million this fiscal year.

As a revenue source, it grew starting in the mid-1990s, after the Supreme Court ruled Delaware could escheat property from companies incorporated in the First State. Escheat is the transfer of property with no known heirs to the state. It skyrocketed from $71 million in fiscal year 1997 to $302 million seven years later. While unclaimed property totals grew steadily for about 15 years after the decision, it’s since become a little more stagnant.

“It’s now kind of flat,” said Deputy Secretary of Finance David Gregor.

The number of people or companies who have unclaimed property can be staggering: About 147,000 names are on this year’s list.

Anyone suspecting they have property can visit revenue.delaware.gov/unclaimedproperty.shtml and follow the steps to claim ownership.

About 11,000 people gained what was theirs in the previous fiscal year, with the claims totaling about $97 million. About two-thirds of that was cash, while the rest was in the form of securities.

“Since July 1, 2013, we have returned over $225 million in cash and securities to the rightful owners,” Mr. Gregor said.

A quick glance at the first page of the 448-page list shows names from places ranging from Delmar to England to Malaysia.

Companies are required to self-report, but not every business does, although whether that’s through ignorance or willful disregard Mr. Gregor declined to speculate. The state regularly conducts audits to determine nothing slips through, and typically about one-third of unclaimed property comes to the state’s attention through audits.

Delaware’s aggressive pursuit of abandoned property has angered some and resulted in lawsuits, with companies disagreeing with the practice of estimating property values when records are not available. Legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2015 slightly limits the state in its efforts.

A court case concerning the state’s practices in escheating, which potentially could scale back its powers, is pending. Mr. Gregor declined to comment on the case.

All that has little relevance on the average citizen, though, who may simply be concerned with recovering any lost or forgotten cash. Individuals can check online or on a hard-copy list. Anyone can claim their property online with the use of a new site, https://delaware.findyourunclaimedproperty.com/.

“The new website is certainly a welcome and timely development,” Gov. Jack Markell said in a statement. “We have a duty to return unclaimed funds to rightful owners and the website allows us to reunite owners with their funds with greater efficiency and customer focus.”

Individuals can call (302) 577-8220 or email escheat.claimquestions@state.de.us for more information.

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