B.C. society reunites unclaimed funds with rightful owners

BCUPS executive director Alena Levitz | Submitted

Is your business or organization fulfilling its legal obligations under the Unclaimed Property Act of British Columbia?

According to the British Columbia Unclaimed Property Society (BCUPS), many organizations are not meeting their requirements to find the holders of unclaimed money on their books and giving them what is rightfully theirs.

Not living up to your obligations under B.C.’s Unclaimed Property Act has consequences.

“If an auditor finds a business is holding unclaimed property that doesn’t rightfully belong to it, that innocent error could hold up the sale of the company, or encourage the auditors to dig deeper into its accounts,” said BCUPS executive director Alena Levitz.

According to the requirements of the Unclaimed Property Act, B.C. organizations are required to make “a reasonable effort” to identify forgotten account holders.

They are also obligated to maintain a database of all unclaimed property held by them and ensure the database is known to the public.

Most B.C. organizations don’t live up to this duty, but BCUPS, a provincial not-for-profit society, is happy to put them back on the straight and narrow.

“By remitting unclaimed funds to BCUPS, a business discharges its obligation,” Levitz said.

Generally speaking, funds are designated as unclaimed property when the lawful owners take no action to access their account or claim their money after a specified period of time.  

Depending on the type of account involved and the organization holding the funds, the specified duration ranges from one year to 10 years.

Credit unions, debt collection agencies, real estate agencies, companies in liquidation, municipal and provincial courts and municipalities are required under B.C. law to transfer unclaimed funds to BCUPS if the rightful owners cannot be contacted.

Other organizations holding trust funds, insurance policies, brokerage accounts and closed pension plans are encouraged to voluntarily transfer their unclaimed property accounts to BCUPS if the rightful owners cannot be located.

In B.C. there is an estimated $130 million in unclaimed funds hidden away in long-forgotten credit union accounts, unpaid wages, overpayments to debt collectors, unclaimed proceeds from courts, pension funds, estates and forgotten real estate deposits. Some of the unclaimed funds in the BCUPS database go as far back as 1859.

This figure could even be much higher, because it doesn’t include dormant bank accounts, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Bank of Canada.

Levitz says accounts become dormant for a number of reasons.

“People move without leaving a forwarding address, neglect to pick up a final paycheque, forget about a security deposit or they simply pass away,” she said.

BCUPS has an excellent track record for finding money that’s gone missing and passing it on to its rightful owners.

Since its establishment in 2003, BCUPS has reunited owners with more than $11 million in assets from dormant accounts.

In 2015, BCUPS received almost $4 million from financial institutions, companies, courts, tax offices and the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia, and returned almost $1 million in unclaimed funds to the rightful owners.

And in 2016, BCUPS has paid out to claimants approximately $986,900 from orphaned accounts.

One of the reasons why BCUPS has been so effective is that it has access to several online databases that it can search in order to match up unclaimed funds with their rightful owners.

If a business hasn’t been successful in locating the owner of unclaimed property in its possession, it can send the funds to BCUPS and it will look for the owner.

“There is no statute of limitation for claims with BCUPS, so unclaimed funds are always available to the rightful owner,” said Levitz.

The society’s services are free to both business and the rightful owner.

In addition to actively searching for owners of unclaimed property, BCUPS maintains an online database (https://unclaimedpropertybc.ca/) where anyone can conduct a name search to check if he or she has any unclaimed property waiting for them. The service is free to anyone who is searching for long-lost money.

Companies that reunite unclaimed money with their owners not only are discharging their legal obligations, but also are making somebody somewhere very, very happy.

Trevor, a 32-year-old Vancouver financial analyst, received a letter from BCUPS in 2008 telling him he was entitled to vacation back pay from an old summer job at a hotel in Whistler.

“I phoned BCUPS and provided it with the information it needed, and a couple of weeks later I received a cheque for $800,” Trevor said. “The whole process was very simple.”