You Can’t Take My Property – I have Rights, Right?

By Geoff Hafer, Fall 2016 Student Intern

You may be thinking, Fifth Amendment, no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” I know my stuff.  Perhaps…but there’s always a catch, am I right?  Escheatment.

Well, I see “cheat” in the word, so not looking good so far.  What exactly is escheatment?

Escheatment is a process whereby the government takes ownership of property, including financial assets, that has been deemed abandoned.  So what qualifies as abandoned?  According to the SEC, property is deemed abandoned or unclaimed “after a period of time specified by state law, often five years.” For instance, in Georgia, property is generally presumed abandoned if it has remained unclaimed by the owner for more than five years after it became payable or distributable.  However, this time limit varies depending on the type of property involved.

Some examples of Georgia Abandoned Property Time Limits:

Wages or Salaries – presumed abandoned after 1 year

Stocks, dividends, and distributions – presumed abandoned after 5 years

Safe deposit boxes – presumed abandoned after 3 years

Money orders – presumed abandoned after 7 years

IRAs or retirement funds – presumed abandoned after 5 years

Gift certificates and gift cards – presumed abandoned after 5 years

Bank account – presumed abandoned after five years

So how can you prevent your property from being escheated?

Most importantly, keep your contact information up-to-date.  Most states, including Georgia, require written notice be sent to the apparent owner of the unclaimed property.  Without the correct mailing address, you may never receive notification.  If the mail comes back undeliverable, this will generally be treated as inactivity for which escheatment is proper.  Otherwise, staying in contact with your broker or simply remaining active in your accounts is the best and easiest way to ensure your property remains your property.

Well what do I do if my property has been escheated?

In Georgia, unclaimed property held by the state may be found by searching the Georgia Department of Revenues site.

After locating the property, a person claiming an interest in the property may file a claim with the Department of Revenue, who must determine the claim within 90 days.

After that, keep your fingers crossed.