Discovering and Reclaiming Escheated Property

I spent Thanksgiving in Denver with my family. I asked my parents if I could spend some time helping get some things around their house organized. My mom made a list, including closet and cabinet cleaning. My Dad was thrilled to have extra hands for a Saturday construction project at the family cabin and help going through some paperwork. Little did I know that we would discover unclaimed property my family already owned.

After the Friday closet and cabinet project, my sister, her husband, myself and my Dad were blessed with a beautiful day to put the dock railing on at our cabin in the Estes Park area, as we continued to rebuild from the 2013 flood. We started mining stories about family, the cabin, life challenges and successes. We drilled down deep as Dad reminisced about his entrepreneurial forays into real estate, when there was little money, but a lot of sweat equity to be had (as child labor laws were not enforced). 

Sunday morning found us digging into the paperwork project. “You and your sister have some stock I never signed over to you, and you need to figure it out. I will give you the file and you can dig into it.” As a CFP and financial life planner, this was right up my alley! We started going through his office and the file drawers filled with years of meticulous records.

Finding Uncashed Dividend Checks

The file he handed me contained a thick pile of old checks—small dividend payments received, but never cashed. “It didn’t add up to much, not worth the time to cash them in.” In the “olden days," you bought stock and were issued a certificate that needed safekeeping. Prior to being able to reinvest those dividends to purchase additional stock, they mailed you checks. The story behind the stock unfolded. In one of their real estate dealings, Dad had done a favor for my Uncle who then repaid the favor by buying some stock in a local utility company for us kids. My uncle eventually signed the stock over to my dad, who put it into a custodial account for my sister and me. It was only seven shares, the stock certificates got filed away, life happened, and this small financial piece got buried with the familiar, “I will get to it someday.” 

As I looked through the pile of checks, I asked my Dad if he had ever checked for unclaimed property in each of the states they had lived in. “Never heard of it,” he said. "Oh boy, let’s go on a treasure hunt!" I responded. Because the checks hadn’t been cashed, I knew the state had laid claim to them. We headed to each treasurer’s office for each state where my parents had lived. I was born in Colorado, but they had also lived in Virginia and Nevada. We visited each state's department of treasury website, registering our names. We uncovered not only a pile of uncashed dividend checks, but a few other things that my dad recognized. (For related reading, see: Unclaimed Property: Forgotten Money Found.)

Reclaiming Escheated Property

I know we are not the only family who has lost track of various financial pieces over the years. In Colorado alone, there is over $384,290,953 of lost or unclaimed property that has escheated to the state. Each state has a due process when forgotten or abandoned property becomes property of the state. Each state also gives people the opportunity to reclaim this property. Financial items that can escheat to the state include stock dividends whose owners can’t be found (or never cashed the checks), abandoned bank accounts (if there is no activity in an account over many years, it is deemed abandoned), utility deposits, unpaid wages, unclaimed accounts from beneficiaries of estates, or unclaimed life insurance. Some states operate websites that will help you find your unclaimed property.

As we filled out paperwork to claim our newfound treasures, I asked more questions. We laughed, we discussed life and I gained new respect for the lifetime of love and legacy that my Dad has perpetuated. While it was fun to reconnect with some financial treasures, the true treasures were the stories, the reminiscing and the time spent with my Dad. This holiday season, where do you want to dig for treasure? What conversations are more valuable than gold? Who do you want to connect with and take on your journey? 

(For more from this author, see: Wealth and Well-Being Come From More Than Money.)