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Missouri's Unclaimed Property program is a success story

October 29, 2015 at 3:10 a.m. | Updated October 29, 2015 at 3:10 a.m.

Missouri was next-to-last among the 50 U.S. states in creating an unclaimed property program.

But it's among the best in reconnecting people with money and property they've lost track of, according to Scott Harper, the state's unclaimed property director.

"One in 10 Missourians have unclaimed property," he told the News Tribune. "By definition, you don't know that you have unclaimed property - or you would, probably, not have let it go unclaimed."

A recent national story reported, in 2011, all states were returning an average of 34 percent of the amount of money and items they were taking in.

"Since Treasurer (Clint) Zweifel took office, we're returning about 44 percent of the money that comes in," Harper said. "In the time that he has been in office, he has returned over half of the unclaimed property that's ever been returned since the program started" 30 years ago.

Missouri lawmakers created a state unclaimed property program in 1984, and the Economic Development department launched it in 1985. It moved to the treasurer's office in 1993, the same time Bob Holden became state treasurer.

The law generally affects accounts and safety deposit boxes with financial institutions and insurance companies, where the business has had no contact with the customer, and the account has been inactive for at least five years.

Creating an unclaimed property program let the businesses save money by not having to manage and take care of those accounts.

Harper, who has been with the program since 1987, said it gave consumers one place to look to see if they have property that was turned over to the state as being abandoned.

In many cases, he noted, people move and forget to close out an account.

Then, there are "mergers, acquisitions and name changes" that can cause a person to lose track of an account, he said, "and when that happens, the ability for an owner or an heir to get that money - or even to track who owns that company now - is a very, very complicated process."

Some of the money turned over to the state has come from governments, including cities and counties.

"We get uncashed checks from the state," Harper said.

With today's technology, consumers don't have to call the state to ask if the program is holding money.

The information is available through the website, showmemoney.com, where the treasurer's office touts the program as "Missouri's Largest Lost & Found."

For many people - where the property ownership wasn't shared and wasn't involved in a divorce or an estate - the process can be reasonably quick and easy.

"A lot of claims are eligible for paperless claims, and they can do that all online," Harper said.

But other claims require more documentation for Harper and his staff to review to make sure money is being returned properly.

"The main difference between single-owner accounts and multiple-owner accounts is that we must consider the ownership rights of each of the owners listed," he said. "This is sometimes as simple as getting an additional driver's license.

"Multiple-owner accounts require additional information/documentation when one of the owners is deceased, or if a divorce has occurred."

An Associated Press story in the Oct. 18 News Tribune said some state governments "are increasingly aggressive in taking control of the cash" and using at least some of the money "to patch budget holes."

Harper said Missouri's program pays for itself with money taken in that isn't claimed, and that some money is given to the state's general revenue fund.

"The way the law is written ... every year there's a calculation made to determine how much money needs to be left in the abandoned fund, and then there's a net transfer made to general revenue," he said. "Then those funds are appropriated as the Legislature sees fit.

"But, we also have an open-ended appropriation that we can get as much back out as we need, to pay claims going forward."

Harper said the state tries to return as much as possible every year. He noted people need to remember the state program is free, so people don't need to pay someone to help them find and claim property.

"We've broken the payout record for six consecutive years - each year, we've paid out more dollars than the year before," he said.

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