Recovering Unclaimed Property in Maine: Does the State Have Property of Mine?

written by: Attorney Kirk G. Siegel

Maine’s Unclaimed Property Act Title 33 M.R.S.A. §1951 et seq. deals with money and other personal assets that are considered lost or abandoned when an owner cannot be located after a specified period of time. It could include checking accounts, certificates of deposit, over payments, gift certificates, paid-up life insurance policies, unpaid wages, commissions, uncashed checks, death benefits, dividends, insurance payments, money orders, refunds, savings accounts, stocks and contents of safe deposit boxes. (Real estate, animals or vehicles are not considered Unclaimed Property.)

Maine’s unclaimed property list contains over 150,000 names, along with some helpful tools for quickly and easily claiming lost property.  A quick visit to the online search webpage makes it simple to search under a person’s name.  According to the State of Maine, millions of dollars annually “escheat” to the State of Maine by entities unable to locate the owners.  The State then attempts to reunite the property with its owner.  No fee is charged to process an Unclaimed Property Claim with the State.  If a person finds their name on the list, the simplest option is to file an electronic claim-which can be done in as little as a few minutes at the above website (as the author of this article discovered with respect to an account of his wife’s).

It is useful to know how property becomes abandoned under the statute.  Title 33 M.R.S.A. § 1953 provides that property is presumed abandoned if it is unclaimed by the apparent owner duringtime periods prescribed for the particular property.  For example, a traveler’s check is presumed abandoned 15 years after issuance, whereas a money order is considered abandoned 7 years after issuance.  The above website provides a list of common situations by which a person’s property could become unclaimed:

  • If you moved and forgot to notify your bank or broker of your new address.
  • If you left a job, but never returned to receive your last paycheck.
  • If you bought shares of stock, placed them in a “safe” place, and forgot them.
  • If you had a distant relative who passed on, leaving an estate, but the heirs were never located.
  • If you overpaid a credit card bill but did not use the credit.
  • If you experienced an address change assigned to you due to E911, but you did not move.
  • If a regular account statement was inadvertently marked undeliverable and was returned to sender in error.
  • If you have accounts in a bank, with a broker or trader, trust or other safekeeping agent with whom you have not made contact in the last 3 years.
  • If you received a check you did not cash.
  • If your forwarding order with the post office has expired.
  • If you are holding bonds that were called.
  • If you have in your possession a gift certificate, certified check, cashier’s check, stored-value card, or money order you have not spent.

The State’s website has suggestions worth reading to prevent property from becoming abandoned or unclaimed.  An obvious one is to notify bank, broker, credit card issuer, employer, 401K administrator, life and health insurance contact, mortgage lender, doctor, attorney, accountant, retirement fund, investment account, mutual fund, safe deposit box account, and any others of name and/or address changes.  A bit more subtle is the recommendation to indicate an interest in and awareness of all accounts by contacting the holder at least once every three years.

On the “flip side,” the Unclaimed Property Act also serves to relieve the holders of the expense and liability of carrying the property, by providing a process to report unclaimed property.  A person or entity with property belonging to another should report it as unclaimed if the property has been held for the required “dormancy period.”  The holder must notify owners of unclaimed property valued at $50 or more of their intention to report property to the State of Maine. This notice must be sent no more than 120 days and no less than 60 days prior to filing their report.

There are aspects of the Unclaimed Property Act too numerous to discuss in this overview.  In addition, a separate statute, Title 14 M.R.S.A. §6013 deals with property unclaimed by a tenant following a court judgment in favor of the landlord or property that is abandoned or unclaimed by a tenant following her vacating of the rental unit.  That statute has requirements for storage of a tenant’s property, notice to the tenant, and the property’s release, sale, or disposal.  Legal counsel is advised in such situations.

The above article is not intended to be legal advice and should not be construed as such.  Any uncertainty should be addressed by competent legal counsel.