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With the festive season upon us, many B.C. residents could use a little extra money to help get them though the holidays. For many people, that elusive extra cash may be closer than they think. Thousands of British Columbians have forgotten funds sitting in dormant accounts waiting to be claimed.
In B.C., there is an estimated $130 million in unclaimed funds in long-forgotten credit union accounts, unpaid wages, overpayments to debt collectors, unclaimed proceeds from courts, pension funds, estates and forgotten real estate deposits.
"Accounts become dormant for a number of reasons," says Alena Levitz, executive director of the not-for-profit B.C. Unclaimed Property Society, whose mandate is to put forgotten or unclaimed funds back in the hands of the rightful owners. "People move without leaving a forwarding address, neglect to pick up a final paycheque, forget about a security deposit or they simply pass away."
Under the British Columbia Unclaimed Property Act, companies and organizations have a legal responsibility to identify and locate the owners of dormant accounts. If unsuccessful, they are required after a specified period of time to transfer these unclaimed funds to the B.C. Unclaimed Property Society.
BCUPS holds unclaimed property as the legal custodian for rightful owners under the Act. In addition to actively searching for owners of unclaimed property, BCUPS maintains an online database where individuals can conduct a name search to check if they have any unclaimed money waiting for them. Funds can be claimed by completing a verification process that firmly establishes the claimant’s identity. There is no cost to search, file or process a claim for unclaimed property.
Last year, BCUPS received $3,915,730 from financial institutions, companies, courts, tax offices and the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia and returned $978,229 in unclaimed funds to the rightful owners. This year alone, approximately $986,900 in orphaned accounts have been paid out to claimants.
"For many people, particularly seniors, finding forgotten money in a dormant account can be a life-changing experience,” says Levitz noting that BCUPS’ oldest claimant was a 104-year-old woman who recently received $1,200 from an insurance policy rebate.
Most unclaimed accounts hold $200 to $300 on average. The single largest unclaimed property payout by BCUPS was $357,262, made in 2011.