Money, bills, dollars

TWIN FALLS — It could be a tin can of somebody’s baby teeth. Or precious jewels and small ivory statues. Or maybe just some cold hard cash.

These are just of a few of the things you might be entitled to, and the Idaho State Treasurer’s Office’s Unclaimed Property Program makes sure it’s safe until you do claim it. There is more than $160 million in cash– and an undisclosed number of other items — waiting to be found and claimed by people whose last known addresses were in Idaho.

Last year, the department received more than $17.8 million. Just $6.5 million was claimed. That’s because much of the time, people don’t even know it’s there.

“There are a lot of different reasons people may not think of why they’d have money out there,” said Ingrid Bolen, unclaimed property program specialist.

The Times-News reached out to a couple of organizations in south-central Idaho that have unclaimed property to see if they knew about it.

“Anytime someone says you have money, that’s nice, right?” said Kyla Sawyer, executive director of the Mini-Cassia Chamber of Commerce, after learning the organization had at least $150 to get back.

She immediately went online to file a claim. Sawyer compared the experience to finding a $20 bill in your pocket.

St. Luke’s Health System has unclaimed property for its operations all over the state. The Magic Valley Regional Medical Center alone could be identified as the recipient of at least $680.

But the organization hasn’t gone online to claim that property, said Natalie Cooksey, senior manager for revenue cycle cash management services at St. Luke’s Health System. It is something it may look into, she said.

While it’s nice knowing you have unexpected income, what may be more intriguing is how it got to the Unclaimed Property Program to begin with. However, that can’t always be determined without some digging. After it’s sent to the state, specific information about what the money was from might not be included.

Here are a few answers to some questions you might have about unclaimed property.

Where does unclaimed property come from?

“Every Nov. 1, by law, business have to turn over property to the state if they can’t find the owner of the property,” Bolen said.

In most cases, “property” refers to money, she said. It could be from someone’s last paycheck before a move, a refund or a rebate he or she sent off for.

The business is supposed to do its due diligence in trying to find the recipient, usually by mail. But if the person doesn’t respond within a certain timeframe, the money is turned over to whatever state the person was last known to be living in.

St. Luke’s has tried to reach out to companies that sent it refunds in the past, Cooksey said.

“We want to make sure it wasn’t an ‘oops’ on their end,” she said.

But sometimes, the health system didn’t get an answer before that money was remitted to the state.

Unclaimed property also includes things such as medical overpayments, insurance payouts and utility deposits that are refunded after a person leaves. The state has millions in unclaimed property just from those things.

Of the medical refunds St. Luke’s issues for $100 or less, Cooksey estimated only about half are cashed out before they get remitted to the state. This usually happens several months after a check is sent.

Unclaimed property can also be other forms of money that was left alone for too long. Savings and checking accounts that have been dormant for five years may be closed and turned over to the state if the holder can’t be contacted.

The same could happen with money spent on gift certificates or gift cards, if they haven’t been used in five years. And money orders also have a dormancy period.

The trouble, Bolen said, is that sometimes the buyer is different than the person who should receive the money like for gift card or money order recipients.

Sometimes, property goes unclaimed because a person doesn’t know he or she is a beneficiary, Bolen said. And it’s not just cash — it could be stocks in a deceased relative’s name, or even the contents of a safety deposit box.

Safety deposit box contents are the only tangible property the Unclaimed Property Program holds on to, Bolen said. So it’s best to make sure you keep up with paying your yearly fees, and leave a good forwarding address.

The department stores the contents of those boxes in a vault.

“It’s just amazing, some of the stuff,” she said. “And other stuff is just — weirdness.”

The baby teeth, for example. That kind of thing has sentimental, but no distinct monetary, value.

Some people may have received those unclaimed property notices before the property went to the state. But oftentimes, they mistakenly get thrown out as junk mail, Bolen said.

How do I find out if I’m on the list?

Every Tuesday, the Times-News runs 75 names of people, businesses and organizations in the Magic Valley who have unclaimed property. This list is updated weekly, but it isn’t a complete one.

To find out whether the state is holding something that belongs to you, go online to Yourmoney.idaho.gov and search for your name. If you’ve seen your name on the newspaper list, type it in exactly as it was printed.

If there are multiple claims showing online, click as many as you think are you, Bolen said. Then you can fill out a form and submit it for processing. A claim agent may require more information from you later.

If anyone in your family has died in the past few decades, you should also check for his or her name on the list and notify the beneficiaries. You can claim the property online as a beneficiary.

It’s also a good idea to keep checking the list each year — usually in January or February when the new reports are in, Bolen said.

How long will the state keep it?

The Unclaimed Property Program was established across the U.S. around the mid-1900s. The state used to hold on to this money for only 10 years.

“We just didn’t think it was right to take it,” Bolen said.

In 2012, a law changed it so that anything that’s been in the unclaimed property fund since that time will be held forever — until it’s claimed.

How long will it take before I get my money?

If you file a claim and your name, address and personal information is exactly as it was submitted to the state by the business, it will be processed automatically within a matter of days. If the information does not match, it could take up to 90 days for everything to be processed.

On Sept. 19, the department had a claim backlog of 52 days.

Once you file, you will immediately receive a claim number and can check back to see its status.

What if I lost money in another state?

If you’ve moved to Idaho and a business used your old address, you could have lost money being held in another state’s unclaimed property fund.

The website Missingmoney.com can conduct a nationwide search for people with your name who have unclaimed property across the U.S.

“It really is just your money,” Bolen said, “And we’re trying to give it back.”

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