A Day in the Life of the Department of Treasury's Unclaimed Property Staff
Office of Performance and Transformation's Communication Representative Monica Drake follows different State of Michigan employees throughout the year.
One woman found out that, unbeknownst to her, her ex-husband had been electronically depositing child support onto a ReliaCard Visa debit card for years. Because the woman had moved and the debit card company couldn’t locate her new address, she had no idea this was happening.
This is just one of many instances of what the Michigan Department of Treasury's Unclaimed Property section does on a daily basis – return money to current or former Michigan residents from dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks, valuables left in safe deposit boxes, stock certificates, etc.
Carrie Best, Unclaimed Property’s Office Supervisor, was the one who took the phone call from the woman who didn’t know she had more than $9,000 worth of child support left unused on a debit card.
“It was one of my first calls when I started working here 13 years ago. The lady called us just to see if she had any (unclaimed property). By the end of the conversation, she was crying because she had no idea,” said Best.
“If a company loses track of you, by law, they have to turn those funds over to the state of your last known address. Every year, companies have to go through their records and, if they can’t get ahold of their clients, they must report it to us by July 1.”
Best said, last fiscal year, the division established about 60,000 claims. The Unclaimed Property team uploads the names of the persons with unclaimed funds and their last known city of residence to the website www.michigan.gov/unclaimedproperty. Then, starting with the highest dollar amount, staff tries to locate the people and reach out to them.
But, considering there are so many names the division receives, there is no way staff can locate each individual. Instead, they rely on people visiting the Unclaimed Property website and looking up their own names. If their names appear, they are asked to call 517-636-5320 (between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.) to claim their assets by giving their social security number, another form of identification, and/or filling out a claim form that is mailed to them.
“Last month, we received about 7,300 calls,” said Best.
The division also keeps property from safe deposit boxes that have been turned over by banks if someone stops paying the monthly fee.
“We try to find the owner of the box. If we can’t get ahold of them within two years, we have to auction anything of value to comply with our unclaimed property statute. The amount of money the items were sold for goes back into our system and is the owner’s money, whenever they do contact us,” she said.
“We have so many different things – baseball cards, pictures, jewelry, and even ashes. We’ve been trying to locate a relative of that person for several years. Some of the things I can’t believe people left there.”
Best said there are many people who don’t know this section of the Department of Treasury exists. Millions of dollars have been left unclaimed, and there are even assets from the 1940s and 50s that no one has come forward to claim.
“A lot of people are still surprised that there’s a place within the state called ‘Unclaimed Property.’ That’s something we’re working on – through outreach events, announcements in the newspaper, and word of mouth – so more people know that we exist,” she said.
The office has to review a variety of documents such as a deceased person’s will, trust, and probate documents. “There have been a lot more of these kinds of claims in the last few years where an heir will contact us,” said Best.
She said what she enjoys most about her job is “giving people their money back.”
“When I went in for my first job interview and heard what the division does, I knew this was where I wanted to work. And it’s lived up to my expectations,” said Best, who was hired as a Calculations Assistant when she first started working at Unclaimed Property.
“It’s so much fun when you’re on the phone with someone, and they don’t know they have thousands in unclaimed funds. They are so happy. This is an office full of hardworking staff who love their jobs and want to help others.”