By Lynn Ashby 14 Sept. 2015
THE BANK – Remembering the $1,200 I had already received, I am checking out the safe deposit boxes here to see if one is big enough to hold my stacks of cash, silver doubloons and the sketches Picasso made on a napkin in Nice. You should make such arrangements, too, unless you don’t like money. If so, I’ll be glad to take that filthy lucre off your hands. My sudden — well, not too sudden — interest in wealth is because I am about to gain a fortune. Let me guide you straight to the pot of gold. The State of Texas currently holds about $4 billion in unclaimed funds, and is trying desperately to get rid of them, but some of you won’t cooperate. The money is from all sorts of sources: forgotten utility deposits or refunds, insurance proceeds, payroll checks, cashier’s checks, dividends, mineral royalties, dormant bank accounts and abandoned safe deposit box contents.
All told, that’s 25 billion in various “properties,” as they say in the vault. The office of Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has just announced (without much notice or many headlines) that this past fiscal year it returned $248 million in unclaimed property to rightful owners. That’s a record, easily breaking the $205 million in unclaimed property returns in fiscal 2014. Since Texas’ unclaimed property program began in 1962, the comptroller’s office has returned more than $2 billion to Texans who didn’t know grandpa had left them the deed to Spindletop or, even better, the Starbucks franchise for greater Houston.
There are all sorts of stories behind these billions, so let’s take a look. Today we are exactly 42 people short of 27 million Texans, and many, over the years, have put down deposits on utilities and moved away without realizing they legally can get their deposits back, not that the Sparks & Watts Power Monopoly is going to hunt you down to tell you. People die and leave bank accounts under false names to cheat the IRS, stocks hidden in the backyard, those gold bars Great Uncle Clem discovered in a Nazi lake and forgot to tell his commanding officer. Or you were the recipient of an insurance policy that your ex-spouse didn’t bother to change after the divorce. Remember that little old lady who slipped on the curb and you pulled from the onrushing Peterbilt? She remembered you, and that million is yours mow that her cat has died.
The mechanics to this little-known giveaway program go like this: Businesses turn property over to the program after the ownerless property has been dormant from one to five years, generally. Then it is the comptroller’s job to find the unknowing heirs. This past year they located recipients from Amarillo to Brownsville; from Nacogdoches to El Paso.
OK, all this time you have been wondering, greedily, “How do I get my hands on my share of that $4 billion?” Simple. Just go to the comptroller’s unclaimed property website at ClaimItTexas.org or call 1-800-654-FIND (3463). If you go to the website, there is a line reading: Search Unclaimed Property. Click on it and up pops a couple of blanks to fill in. Last name, first name or your business. Hope you can handle the grilling. I found two Texans with my name who are owed money. One is in line for $1.38, the other for $107.79. We’re big spenders in my family.
Now here’s the odd thing: Supposedly the comptroller’s office is trying to hunt down these winners. Maybe they should knock on the recipient’s door, Ed Mcmahon-style, with balloons and a big check and say, “Congratulations, Mister Bankrupt! You have received a dollar and thirty-eight cents!” I agree, some winners are hard to find, or don’t want to be found, but why can’t anyone locate Exxon, which has 1,259 properties in limbo? The Texas A&M System is owed $348, good enough to rent a running back for a Saturday afternoon. Comcast, you forgot some of your own deposits. AT&T, collect your 217 properties.
You are wondering about the size of the properties already handed out. The winner is a nameless Houstonian – unlike Lotto winners, property recipients can remain anonymous – who received $12.3 million. Two people in little ol’ Weslaco got properties: $3.7 million and $1.7 million. But wait! There’s more! Bags of cash stuck in an Austin bank with names on them are: $581,413.85 for someone in Laredo, $476,650.04 for a Fort Worthian and $453,134.33for a resident of Pasadena.
Up till now we’ve been talking mostly about cash, but there also safe deposit boxes. According to the comptroller’s office, when a customer loses contact with his or her bank and misses payment for a safe deposit box rental, the box is eventually drilled and the contents are stored in a secure location by the bank. Once five years have passed from the first missed payment or last contact with the owner, the contents are reported as unclaimed property and sent to the comptroller’s office. Over the years, the staff has recovered lots of interesting things including: a bloody glass eye, dried deer legs, a brick, mercury, ashes, Apollo 15 postal stamp covers, 16th century receipt for wool written by Michelangelo’s namesake great nephew, a 4.22 carat diamond ring and a stock certificate Number 1 from Dr Pepper Co. in Waco signed by the inventor of Dr Pepper.
As for that forgotten half-million in cash you left in the back seat of the patrol car, go to the website, print out a form and fill it in showing you really are Dang Wang Foo. You were adopted. There are also mailing and phone addresses. Incidentally, there is no deadline. Finally, about that $1,200 I actually did receive: A few years ago I checked the list and found my name and $1,200 I was owed and never collected. My ransom note was a bit unclear. So get on your computer, and grab your fortune. Did I mention my finder’s fee?
Ashby is helpful at firstname.lastname@example.org