The state treasurer oversees the banking and investment of state funds, but it is another division of the office that has increased its workload by nearly 300% in the past three years: unclaimed property.
Unclaimed property in Colorado includes abandoned financial assets (stocks, dividends, mutual funds, bank accounts), unpaid wages, securities, life insurance payouts, and the contents of safe deposit boxes.
Whoever possesses the property must attempt to contact the owner. If the contact fails, they must turn the property in to the owner’s last known state of residence.
In fiscal year 2016, the office paid 10,461 claims on personal property, which almost tripled to 29,672 in fiscal year 2018. The cash paid out jumped from $30.4 million to $46.1 million.
The spike reflects a backlog of nearly 13,000 claims in May 2018, which the budget proposal noted is now down to 2,000.
The program has been in existence since 1987. This year, the General Assembly passed the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (RUUPA), which established new standards for custody, notification and transparency.
Treasurer Dave Young’s budget request for fiscal year 2020 notes that the program has returned $463 million in unclaimed property throughout its existence. The vast majority of properties in state custody — 97% — are cash.
In July of this year, the state auditor released an unflattering report, revealing that the Unclaimed Property Division had not notified 1.6 million owners since 2005 about their property in state custody, nor did they sell tangible unclaimed property within three years.
The audit noted that division staff halted the mail notification in 2005 “because the post office returned more than half of the letters mailed.”
The budget request puts lawmakers on notice that the divisions risks continuing noncompliance with state law in the absence of new resources.
"Failing to fund these requests risks putting the division in violation of statute by making it unable to notify claimants that the division has received their unclaimed property, or makes it impossible for the division to return said property to claimants," it reads.
Young’s predecessor, Walker Stapleton, told The Denver Post that understaffing and outdated technology were to blame for the poor handling of property.
For the Unclaimed Property Division, Young has requested new software and training, vault cameras, and postcards for attempting to notify property owners.
“A welcome change that RUUPA offers is the opportunity to contact claimants electronically,” the request reads. “However, the division would like to exhaust every means at its disposal to potentially reach claimants, and thus is requesting funding for this request to reach claimants using the U.S. mail.”