CNHI News Service
Boyd County residents and businesses have more than $2.3 million in unclaimed or abandoned property, which they are essentially loaning to the Kentucky government interest free.
State Treasurer Todd Hollenbach and his staff rolled out the Treasure Finder’s program more than four years ago in an effort to try to get more of that money back into the hands of citizens that own it.
According to Hollenbach’s office, as of December 2011 the list of unclaimed property belonging to current and former Boyd Countians spans 656 pages. It totals $2,345,711.26 in estimated work and includes from unclaimed utility deposits to wages and salaries as well as items from unclaimed safety deposit boxes.
Last week the office brought the Treasurer Hunter’s program to Lawrence County as part of a sweep through eastern Kentucky. The program utilizes volunteers with local knowledge to comb through lists of names looking for individuals and families they recognize. These individuals then call their friends and neighbors personally to tell them they may have unclaimed property.
The visit to Lawrence County, and a pending visit to Martin County, have been spurring interest in the surrounding area, prompting plenty of phone calls from local residents about how they can find, and retrieve their lost property. The program visited Boyd County in 2011, but may return in the coming months, officials said.
Hollenbach said the Treasure Finders program has helped to return more than $72 million back to Kentuckians over the last five years, putting him well on his way toward reaching his $100 million goal by the end of his second term in three years.
“It is their money, and money is in short supply these days,” said Hollenbach. “Everyone is having to tighten their belts. We have $350 million on the account, dating back to the 1920s or 1930.”
By law, each year the Kentucky State Treasury receives about $30 million in unclaimed property from holders who must transfer the assets of inactive accounts to the state after they are unable to find owners. The money is deposited into the state’s general fund, but are obligated funds, said Hollenbach. “It is on our books forever, but it is sort of a no interest loan to the state,” he added.
“We give out $20 to $50 million a year, but every year banks and insurance companies report abandoned assets to us to the tune of $30 million,” said Hollenbach. In addition, he said, Kentucky is part of a recent global settlement with life insurance companies that will identify even more unclaimed funds for Kentuckians in coming years.
Hollenbach said the state also has about 60,000 items in the vault in Frankfort. Items range from mostly paper birth and marriage certificates to valuables such as jewelry and silver bullion to an urn of remains.
There are also more than 300 military medals and certificates earned by Kentuckians in the vault. These are items Hollenbach would really like to see returned to families.
“Some of these items, the Purple Hearts and the Medals of Valor, they have real value for the families of those who have earned those medals and are stories that deserve to be told,” Hollenbach said, noting his office is currently working with Veterans Affairs and variety of veterans organizations to return as many of those items as possible.
About 80 percent of unclaimed items and monetary claims are worth $500 or less, said Mark Pfeiffer, a spokesman for the treasurer’s office. However, claims can amount to thousands of dollars.
Hollenbach recalled a woman in western Kentucky, whom the Treasure Finder’s program helped to find. The 90-year-old grandmother was struggling financially and had put a portion of the farm her family had owned since reconstruction up for sale. The woman had an old life insurance policy worth $14,000.
Another woman, he remembered to be from Boyd or Greenup County, was working in the food industry to put her daughters through college. The office helped her to find a $12,000 claim that she hoped to use for their tuition.
“When you think about it, this was their money all along,” said Hollenbach. “They had been suffering and, lo and behold, our Treasure Finder’s program reaches out and finds them. ... That is a game-changer for people. Three-quarters of the battle is making people aware of the existence of the program. Once they know it is out there, anyone can check.”
Individuals can begin the process of claiming their property several ways.
The Kentucky State Treasury has a toll-free number, 800-465-4722, for residents to call to find out if they or a loved one has unclaimed property. In addition they can search an online database located on the department’s site at www.treasury.ky.gov.
There is also a link on the site to the national database of unclaimed property.
If unclaimed property is found, a claim form request must be filled out, signed and mailed to the office. It too is available online or by calling the toll-free number.
Documentation including birth and death certificates and other paperwork may be required to verify a claim. The office collects $1 from every claim to help defray the cost of the Treasury’s advertisement of the program.
Pfeiffer said the claims process is currently taking about two to three weeks but has been as quick as 10 days.
The length of time it takes to make a claim also varies depending on the amount of the claim, and whether it is in an individual’s name or was property belonging to a deceased relative.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2653.