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Require notices for unclaimed property

Lawmakers are debating legislation this week that could restore newspaper publication of notices on unclaimed property overseen by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Minnesota’s unclaimed property program began in 1969, with the original purpose of the law to have the state preserve property that people had abandoned or lost track of. The property can be in savings or checking accounts, stocks, un-cashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler’s checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders or gift certificates, insurance policies and customer overpayments, among others. Unclaimed property was classified as accounts that had no activity generated or contact made with the owner for one year or a longer period. State statute lays out procedures for how public, state officials and financial institutions handle the property, and the statute also provides that the Department of Commerce is required to make attempts at finding and reaching out to the rightful owners. If the property is not claimed after a year, it is transferred to the state’s general fund as non-dedicated revenue until claimed.

Ten years ago, this fund had more than $350 million. It is now in excess of $750 million and is on its way toward $1 billion. A record high $49.3 million in unclaimed property was returned to owners in 2016, and it is estimated that at least one in every 20 Minnesotans could have claims in the fund.

As the fund continues to grow, we believe more needs to be done to reach out to these owners. Up until 2005, it was required that newspaper advertisements be published with lists of property owners with unclaimed property.

Legislation being debated this week would restore that public notice requirement.

In the nearby states that still require public notices be printed in the newspaper, the claims on unclaimed property skyrocket after the notices appear. As we have seen with other things, if the owners themselves do not see the public notice, they are likely to hear about it from a friend or relative.

A study from the Council on State Taxation published in 2013 gave Minnesota a C+ ranking for its unclaimed property program, according to a brief published in December from the Fiscal Analysis Department of the Minnesota House of Representatives. The states in the top 10 have some type of newspaper listing to reach out to the potential owners.

We encourage legislators — and particularly our own legislators District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, District 27b Rep. Jeanne Poppe and District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks — to support this legislation.

This property belongs to the people, and more of an effort needs to be done to restore it to the people.