$1.2M in unclaimed funds available to be claimed by Lincoln Countians

Published 9:35 pm Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lincoln Countians have $1.2 million in unclaimed funds stockpiled in the state treasurer’s office.

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, is trying to get it into the pockets of her constituents.

“That money should all be in the hands of everyone in Lincoln County,” she said.

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State Treasurer Lynn Fitch is responsible for administration of the Unclaimed Property Act. The law requires that holders such as banks, credit unions, insurance companies, retail stores, utility companies, and business associations turn over to her office any assets such as money, cash, checks or stocks that have been abandoned for which there has been no contact for a period of five years.

Some of the funds come from uncashed checks, forgotten funds on utility deposits or unknown insurance payments. It comes from companies and corporations that go out of business, owe refunds but can’t find recipients and from earnings that come from certain investments. It’s money from oil and gas royalty checks or deposits made on apartment rentals.

Since assuming office in 2012, Fitch has paid out nearly 34,000 claims for unclaimed property, distributing over $64 million to its rightful owners or heirs.

The state acts as custodian for the funds until they can be reunited with their rightful owners. The Unclaimed Property Division is charged with trying to locate the rightful owners of such assets. Doty is hoping she can help speed up that process.

She receives a list each year for District 39, which she breaks down into the counties she represents — Lincoln, Lawrence, Copiah and Walthall.

She said navigating the online database at treasurerlynnfitch.ms.gov can be a bit confusing, so she tries to make the list available at events she attends, like the Hog Wild Festival in April. She’ll be at the Ole Brook Festival in October and she plans to make a list available at the Lincoln County Public Library.

The list is sometimes easier to look at than typing in a single name on the website. The name may be misspelled on the check, which is why it was unclaimed in the first place, so searching for a match can be difficult, she said.

“It makes it easier to look,” she said. “We’re a small town. We know everybody here.”

She’s had neighbors and relatives spot someone on the list they knew and Doty has been able to notify the person that there is money being held for them in the treasurer’s office.

“Who doesn’t want to have someone tell them they have some money,” she said.

Some people find it difficult to believe that someone may have unclaimed money they don’t know about.

“Usually it’s a wrong address,” she said. “There’s some mixup. There’s some reason that it’s on there. I think I’ve got about $100 on there.”

She advised residents to check the list or the website each year.

“Last year, I didn’t have money on it and this year I did,” she said.

And if you find your name, claim your funds, she said.

Two years ago, Doty found an elderly couple that had $16,000 coming to them. They’d received a notice from Fitch’s office but ignored it.

“She said, ‘We though it was $25 or $30 and didn’t think it was worth fooling with,’” Doty said.

She helped the Brookhaven couple fill out the forms and they were able to claim part of retirement check that had been turned into the state.

Doty is currently trying to find the family of Alberdia Brewer, a woman who died but has more than $60,000 in unclaimed funds. From the research Doty has done, she believes Brewer lived in Lincoln County. The woman had a Brookhaven post office box.

If anyone has any information about Brewer, contact Doty at sdoty@senate.ms.gov or call her office at 601-359-2395.

Fitch is hoping to to get $155 million in U.S. Savings Bonds designated as unclaimed property for Mississippians. Fitch sat in on a hearing in June at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims over unclaimed savings bonds.

“The federal government has been holding on to $20 billion of citizen money in the form of unredeemed U.S. Savings Bonds,” Fitch said in a news release. “And, they’ve demonstrated no interest in finding the bonds’ owners to pay them back. Mississippi and other states are prepared to take those bonds and distribute them to the rightful owners or their heirs, just like we do with other unclaimed property every day. I am hopeful that the court will grant us that right.”

Fitch, with the assistance of Attorney General Jim Hood, filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims in 2016, urging that the U.S. Treasury turn those bonds over to Mississippi. The oral arguments heard in June were in a similar case filed by the State of Kansas. Judge Elaine Kaplan has stayed Mississippi’s case while considering the Kansas case.  She is expected to rule in both simultaneously.