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Unclaimed property in California: Near the finish line

Most of us hope for a windfall, a healthy infusion of cash that comes free of obligation -- and taxes, of course. There must be an old uncle somewhere who amassed a fortune panning for gold somewhere in the Rockies, someone who has no other living blood relative. You will hear through a law firm that his pile of cash is now yours.

The scenario is not entirely impossible, but the law firm is not holding onto the money for you. The state of California is. The stack of cash was likely turned over to the Controller's Office as unclaimed property.

In our March 16 post, we were talking about institutions like banks and life insurance companies holding on to property while they look for its owner or while they wait for the owner to come forward. The government would rather look after it, thank you, after a few years -- usually three -- so, as the state website says, the "holders" give the property to the Controller's Office for safekeeping.

We also mentioned in the March 16 post that the holders notify the state before turning the property over. As soon as the state receives that report, the Controller's Office sends out a notice to the owner's last known address. The state may, after all, have a different address from the life insurance company.

The state is not, however, a detective agency. If the owner is deceased, the state makes no effort to discover who the next in line might be. The information reported by the holders only gives the name of the owner; the state would be starting from scratch, and taxpayers would rather see their tax dollars go to other things.

It doesn't end there, though. We'll finish this up in our next post.

Source: California State Controller's Office, Unclaimed Property Program FAQs, accessed March 6, 2015

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