Abandoned property goes to the Comptroller

If you lose track of a deposit or investment, the custodian is not allowed to pocket the money. When accounts are dormant long enough, the money gets delivered to the Texas Comptroller, where the name and address of the owner and a description of the property is posted for all to see.

Paychecks and utility deposits have a 1-year abandonment period. For traveler’s checks the period is 15 years. For most other property, e.g., stocks, bonds, insurance proceeds, and checking, savings, and IRA accounts, the rule is 3 years. The abandonment period resets with activity, e.g., whenever someone pays a fee or calls customer service.

Safe deposit boxes are different. If abandoned 5 years, the contents go to the Comptroller, which posts the owner’s name and address, but not the contents, online. A year later, unclaimed contents are auctioned on E-bay. About 60% of abandoned safe deposit box contents are auctioned, with the rest collected by the owner or heirs. Sales proceeds are held until claimed, and do not go to the state.

Claiming property is easy

The Comptroller holds funds forever. There is no claim deadline for individuals. If you don’t leave a will, your estate’s administrator can’t collect unless appointed within 4 years of your death. There’s no such limit for the executor under a will.

To search or claim property, start at claimittexas.org. If the owner died, the Comptroller often pays the heirs’ claims of $10,000 or less without probate. The required affidavit must be recorded with the county clerk if the claim is over $5,000. Other forms and resources are available at claimittexas.org/app/forms. If you can wait 3+ years, collecting from the Comptroller can be an inexpensive alternative to probate, assuming there are no other probate assets.

Reasons and resources for digging deeper

Real estate and vehicle title are already a matter of public record. Those assets are never delivered to the Comptroller. Abandoned mineral royalties and bonuses are delivered to the Comptroller, along with i) the name of the lease, property, and well, ii) identification numbers, and iii) the county. That information points to the underlying mineral interest, which, like other real estate, is not reported or delivered to the Comptroller. A small royalty can lead to a large mineral estate.

There are a variety of assets the Comptroller does not audit. Look elsewhere for assets abandoned while living in other states, uncollected pensions, insurance policies, U.S. savings bonds, and IRS refunds, among others. Links to custodians of those assets are found at claimittexas.org/app/ucp-databases.

Locating assets is as much an art as a science. Here’s the suggestions I share with other lawyers: bellaireprobate.com/2018/08/locating-assets/.

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