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A pile of money just waiting for us

By Staff | Apr 23, 2017

(A quick disclaimer. Some of the following information came from the Minnesota Newspaper Association.)

I’m celebrating my 45th year as a newspaper editor. That means two things I am old and I have seen a lot of interesting things in this industry.

Here is one of those.

Way back when, every newspaper used to get an advertisement once a year from the State of Minnesota.

It was a rather different, or should I say, odd, ad.

On it was a list of names of people from our county who the state was trying to find.

You might think it was for something bad, but it wasn’t. The state was trying to find these people so they could give them money.

And sometimes it was big money. Or if not money, maybe it was important documents that could be worth big money.

It was called the Notice of Unclaimed Property. The State of Minnesota, you see, had a whole lot of cash and property that they were required to hold onto for people until they could locate them and give it back to them.

The unclaimed property were things people had perhaps lost track of or abandoned. It came from old bank accounts, insurance policies, utility deposits, trust funds, safety deposit boxes, tax refunds, rent deposits and much more.

It was always interesting to see the names on the list. Many were former residents of our county who had moved away or died. But, every once in a while, it was someone we all knew.

Because, of course, in a small town, you pretty much knew everyone.

But then, after a while, the state legislature decided that it was just too costly to publish these notices in the newspapers around the state. So they quit. I guess you could say they figured that if people wanted to find out if they had money coming to them they would just up and ask the state offices.

Of course, it just doesn’t work that way.

So now, this fund is monstrous. Ten years ago it was just over $350 million, but now it is in excess of $750 million and is on its way towards hitting the $1 billion mark.

It is estimated that at least one in every 20 Minnesotans could have claims on the money in the fund.

Legislation has been passed the last few years to once again run ads in newspapers and actually try and locate the people who have something coming to them. And again this year the legislature has passed bills on this issue that have made it to the conference committee but no farther.

If it does pass, the requirement of publishing the list of names in newspapers, which ended in 2005, would be reinstated. And, newspapers would be required to publish the list on their websites for free.

Because, of course, people look at newspaper’s websites a whole lot more than many other random sites.

In South Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and other states, this type of list of names is still published in newspapers. And, after those notices appear, the number of unclaimed property claims skyrocket. South Dakota state treasurer Rich Sattgast said newspaper advertising is their single largest contributor to generate activity.

It was back in the “olden days,” too.

After all, it wasn’t just the people who find their own names on the list, the ads always caused a chain reaction, where friends, relatives and neighbors all notice someone they know and tell them about it.

It is similar to the annual county Delinquent Tax List. Except of course, you don’t want your name on that list. But you might be pretty happy to see your name on the Unclaimed Property List. It would be like winning the lottery, perhaps.

For the last two years or so, newspapers have been writing columns just like this one, explaining all about this gigantic pile of money just waiting to be claimed. These stories have always generated a tremendous amount of interest and generated hundreds of calls to the state, asking if they have money with their name on it and many have found out they did and filed claims on it.

In fact, it was noted that in 2016 a record high $49.3 million in unclaimed property was returned to owners in 2016.

Just think what would happen if the state started running the ads with the names on them in every newspaper in the state.

The phones might be ringing off the hook and the pile of cash might disappear fast.

Sounds like a good idea to me. Especially if my name might be on it.

Or yours.