The PA Department of Treasury states that 1 in 10 Pennsylvania residents have unclaimed property that has fallen under the custody and control of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania pursuant to the Disposition of Abandoned and Unclaimed Property Act (DAUPA). As of April 2022, The PA Department of Treasury had approximately $4 Billion Dollars in unclaimed property. Here is where you go to find out if the Commonwealth is holding any unclaimed property belonging to you:
You can conduct a search under your name and it will tell you in general terms (under $100, Over $100) whether the Commonwealth is holding property belonging to you. If your name shows up, there is a process for submitting a request (by mail) for the return of your property. If you are acting as the executor for an estate, you should also look up the deceased and submit a claim if applicable.
How Did the State Get My Property?
Pennsylvania (and most states) have long had “escheat” laws whereby holders of so-called “abandoned property” are required to turn such property over to the Commonwealth after a certain amount of time (the amount of time is known as the “dormancy period”). There are many different kinds of property which are subject to escheatment by the Commonwealth, including money, dormant bank accounts, retirement accounts, contents of safe deposit boxes, unclaimed wages/paychecks, refunds or credits due, insurance policies, lost inheritances and lost valuables.
Earlier versions of PA’s law had a dormancy period of 7 years for many types of property, and then through the years this was reduced to 5 years. Most recently in 2016, Pennsylvania reduced its dormancy period to 3 years(!) for most classes of property (2 years for paychecks).
Once the property is turned over to the state, if it is tangible and has value (such as contents of a safe deposit box), the Commonwealth will attempt to locate the owner but ultimately will auction off the property if efforts to track down the owner are unsuccessful. Cash and liquid assets go into the Commonwealth’s general operating fund, less a reserve.
The Commonwealth’s purported justification for escheating your property is to “protect the property interests of owners of abandoned property and to provide a mechanism for the safekeeping and return of the property to its lawful owner.” Count me as a skeptic of this justification. As it relates to bank accounts, I put my money in a bank because I trust that the bank will hold it until I need it. That’s the essential role of a bank. I tend to agree with those who believe that this is an opportunity for the Commonwealth to improve its financial position, especially in light of the fact that they have updated the law to shorten the dormancy period and to capture more classes of assets.
What Should I Do to Protect Myself from Having my Property Deemed Abandoned?
Of particular concern to me is the risk that my bank account or retirement account will be deemed abandoned. Retirement accounts in particular are long term investments you may not regularly check up on. Imagine how shocking to learn that an account you were expecting to be there (and accruing investment returns) has been turned over to the Commonwealth.
The answer to the question posed is fairly simple: your best bet is to keep your address information (home mailing address and email address) up to date with your bank and any holders of retirement accounts.
DAUPA provides that property held by a financial institution (e.g. bank accounts) is presumed abandoned UNLESS within the prior 3 years, the owner has: (1) made a deposit to the account (interest accruing doesn’t count) or made a withdrawal, or (2) the owner has communicated in writing with the holder about the account, or (3) in written or electronic communication has affirmatively agreed to changes in terms and conditions of the deposit relationship (4) otherwise indicated an interest in the deposit through a writing on file with the holder, (5) received tax reports or regular statements of the deposit or (6) if owner has ANY account with the holder that satisfies any of the previous conditions.
DAUPA also provides that retirement accounts are deemed abandoned 3 years after the holder lost contact with the owner unless the owner has increased or decreased principal, taken distribution of interest or principal, or has otherwise indicated an interest in the property. For purposes of retirement accounts, “lost contact” generally means that two written notices were sent to the owner and returned undeliverable.
From the foregoing, it is clear that most issues can be avoided simply by keeping your address info updated with your bank or investment company. Remember, the bank doesn’t want to turn your property over to the Commonwealth either! As long as you continue to receive regular statements and tax statements, you should be safe.
For more information, please visit the PA Department of Treasury’s site: https://www.patreasury.gov/unclaimed-property/