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Thousands of British Columbians unknowingly may have money owing to them that’s been languishing in long forgotten credit union accounts, as unpaid wages, overpayments to debt collectors, unclaimed proceeds from courts, estates and forgotten real estate deposits.
In total, there’s approximately $125 million in forgotten funds in BC waiting to be claimed.
“It’s not uncommon for people to lose track of their assets, forgetting old credit union accounts or wages from previous jobs ,” says Alena Levitz, Executive Director of the not-for-profit BC Unclaimed Property Society (BCUPS), whose mission is to reunite unclaimed money with the rightful owners. “People often move without forwarding their mail for a year, or simply forget to pick up a final paycheque. Some people die without their heirs knowing much about their finances.”
BCUPS maintains an online database (unclaimedpropertybc.ca) where people can conduct a name search to check and see if they have any unclaimed money waiting for them. Funds can be claimed by completing a verification process that firmly establishes the claimant’s identity. There are no fees charged for claimants to search for or claim their unclaimed money.
Unclaimed money can sit in dormant accounts for years. Property is designated as officially “unclaimed” when the financial institution or organization holding the funds has had no contact with the owner for a designated period, which varies based on the type of funds and the institution holding the money ranging from 60 days for outstanding debt collections to up to ten years for dormant credit union accounts.
Under the BC Unclaimed Property Act, once an account becomes dormant, organizations holding these unclaimed funds must make a reasonable effort to locate and notify the property owner. If they cannot contact the property owner within a year, mandatory holders, which includes credit unions, debt collectors, wages, real estate agents, supreme and provincial courts, and the Public Guardian and Trustee of BC, are required to transfer these unclaimed funds to the BC Unclaimed Property Society. Holders of other unclaimed property such as life insurance policies, trust funds and brokerage accounts are encouraged to transfer funds to BCUPS on a voluntary basis. BCUPS holds this unclaimed property as the custodian for rightful owners under the Unclaimed Property Act and works to return the property to the rightful owners.
In 2014, BCUPS received $6,225,267 from financial institutions, companies, courts, tax offices and the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia, representing 4,895 individual unclaimed properties. The Society returned more than $1.8 million in unclaimed funds to claimants in 2014 – a 183% increase in the number of people who were reunited with their forgotten funds compared to the previous year.
Payouts typically average between $200 and $300, although someone did receive $357,262 in 2011.
“Not all lost assets become life-changing windfalls,” says Levitz, “but sometimes even a small amount can come in handy during tight economic times.”
To find out if you have unclaimed funds waiting for you, visit the BCUPS website (unclaimedpropertybc.ca) and click on the Search Unclaimed Property tab.