Our international estate lawyers are experienced in assisting with unclaimed property and escheated assets.
What is unclaimed property?
Unclaimed property is when a company tries to send money to a person who then fails to collect those funds.
What are escheated funds?
In the US, all financial institutions are required to report to their relevant State all occasions where funds have not been claimed. This would usually occur after a long period of inactivity on an asset or after a cheque has not been cashed in time. It prevents the funds from being held in ‘limbo’ without an easily identifiable owner.
Stocks and shares (also known as securities) are usually sold by the State and the funds are then treated as state funds. However, if a person makes a valid claim for the abandoned property, the State will normally provide the claimant with cash equal to the value of the asset at the time of the escheatment or, if an investment is still held, arrange for a transfer of ownership.
Why does the State often sell escheated shares and stocks?
Usually, the State sells escheated shares and stocks to protect the owner of the shares and to preserve the value of the shares at the point of escheatment. While the value of the shares may of course increase over time, there is also a real risk that the value may decrease, or something may happen in the future to the company, which may make the shares less valuable.
Why do escheated assets come up so often in estates?
In the case of shares in the name of a deceased owner, accounts are often declared as inactive because dividend cheques are no longer being cashed, or the account into which the dividends were being paid has been frozen or closed.
Escheatment of US shares is becoming increasingly common, particularly in matters where the estate has had to go through the long process of obtaining federal tax clearance before they can attend to the administration of the assets. Many transfer agents will still proceed with escheatment, even if they have been notified of the death, as some are unwilling to update their records until the death registration has been formally completed.
How long does it take to claim back escheated assets?
This can be very depending on the State involved and they all have different requirements which the person making the claim will have to meet.
For those attending to escheated assets where the deceased was based in the UK, the majority of the unclaimed assets are held by the Delaware Office of Unclaimed Property. While claims through their office used to involve mostly the same paperwork being provided, we have found that in recent years, there have been procedural changes in the way the claims are handled by their office and we find a more bespoke list of requirements is now provided. Often there will also be more than one stage of papers to provide.
This means the process can be quite slow and we usually find that such claims can take many months to be finalised.
How can our international solicitors assist with unclaimed property and escheated shares?
Our international solicitors are experienced in searching for unclaimed property when the estate is not sure if assets have been escheated or not. We are also experienced in submitting claims to US State Departments in order to claim escheated assets and we would be delighted to assist you.
We always aim to provide our clients with a fixed fee at the outset. Sometimes this is not possible, for example, if the extent of the estate is not yet known, or the requirements need to be confirmed first. In that instance, we will usually provide you with a fixed investigation fee with the full fee and requirements then being agreed with you once the initial investigation is complete.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is no need to use a company to claim your entitlement to funds which have been escheated. If you contact the State holding the property, they will notify you of their requirements.
Usually, companies who seek to find those who have missing US property funds work under agreements whereby they keep a percentage of the asset which they assist you with. We frequently find that this percentage fee is out of proportion with the asset value and the work involved.
Conversely, if you are attending to an estate with escheated assets, and you are not based in the US, meeting the requirements of the relevant State can at times be a challenge. You may be required to provide affidavits of law as part of the claim. We always try to provide a fixed fee quote for such work and this is based more on the expected work involved rather than the asset itself.