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Is it Worth it to Claim Unclaimed Property?

It is common for many people to have unclaimed property held by the State.  Unclaimed property can result from dormant back accounts, unclaimed dividends, and life insurance policies.  Many times after someone dies, family members will check to see whether there is unclaimed property.  Personal representatives will sometimes also check to see of the deceased person had any unclaimed property.  The process for claiming unclaimed property for a deceased person can be fairly cumbersome, but this varies state by state.  The following is a true report of one person’s attempt to claim unclaimed property in Missouri.  He answers the question no, it is usually not worth it to claim unclaimed property.

“Unclaimed Property”


That’s what they call it in the State of Missouri. The Office of the State Treasurer accumulates uncashed checks and unclaimed awards and who-knows-what-else through its right of Escheat. Then they publish a list of the “rightful owners” and wait in ambush for any naïve fool who thinks they can wheedle anything out of them.

I was one of those fools once. My brother died. My brother was the original Libertarian. He did not believe in anything to do with the medical, legal, financial or insurance industries. He had no doctor, no will, no health insurance and no desire to deposit the AT&T dividend checks. You see, when my grandmother died in 1961, she left a few shares of AT&T stock to me, my sister and my brother. My sister, who was once voted The Craziest Woman in North America, immediately sold hers and bought cat food. I don’t remember what I did with mine (I was 15). My brother threw his in the trash. But AT&T dutifully sent him dividend checks every quarter. They also wound up in the trash. Who throws their mail in the trash? Soon, AT&T became Qwest, Southwestern Bell, Bell South, Verizon and probably Dunkin’ Donuts, and all of them sent him dividends as well.

A few years after he died, a friend of mine was looking at the Unclaimed Property list and saw my brother’s name, two hundred times. All those uncashed dividend checks had escheated to the state and were there for the taking. Well, not so fast. When my brother died intestate, his meager estate was divided among myself and the two people in the world he hated the most – his father and his sister. If that news had reached him, wherever the Hell he went, he would have certainly turned over in his grave. By the time I began this Quixotic quest for Holy Dividends, both my father and sister had died.  To satisfy the state, I had to prove my brother was dead and died without a will and that his estate was probated.  Then I had to prove my father had died and provide his will (he left everything to me); the same for my sister (she left everything to her cats). This was an endeavor only slightly less complicated than obtaining a Top-Secret Security Clearance from the Kremlin. Once I had all of that paperwork teed up, I thought I was home free.  But so did Dorothy when she landed in Munchkin Land.

You see, my brother lived in various places during his adult life and the uncashed checks had been mailed to many addresses. I had to prove that my brother had lived in those places. A simple utility bill would suffice, but he had lived in some of these places so long ago, I wasn’t sure utilities had been invented yet. This whole procedure, which had been copied step by step from the Ottoman Empire, took two years. I never could prove that he had lived in some of the addresses and had to abandon those items, but at the end, I received about two thousand dollars for my efforts.  Six months later, I received an official letter from the Office of the State Treasurer informing me I needed to return the money because they had, in their calculations, neglected to provide for my sister’s cats. I am not making any of this up.  By this time, my brother was not only turning over in his grave, he was doing it Gangnam Style.  I threw the letter in the trash and have not heard from them since.

Last week, my wife’s cousin noticed her grandfather’s name was on that unclaimed property list. She sent me an email asking me to help her locate four generations of legal paperwork, family trees and utility bills. I replied that I had moved to Moscow and become a spy.

Michael F. is a humorist somewhere in Missouri.  His senior wisdom can be found weekly at http://limerickoyster.blogspot.com/

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