Big Horn County Family Receives Surprise $742,000 Wyoming Unclaimed Property Payout

A family in Big Horn County had no idea it was owed more than $742,000 from Wyoming’s Unclaimed Property Division, which paid out a record $10.6 million this past fiscal year.

LW
Leo Wolfson

July 05, 20235 min read

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The Wyoming Unclaimed Property Division has had a record year, giving back $10.6 million to taxpayers from 2022-2023, the most the department has ever disbursed in its annual payout. The largest single reimbursement was $742,993.60 to a single recipient in Big Horn County. 

Jeff Robertson, administrator of unclaimed property for the Wyoming Treasurer’s Office, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday morning that this unclaimed property was related to a family trust. Best of all, he said the recipients weren’t aware they had been entitled to the money.

“I’m sure they were pretty happy,” he said.

The state paid back $10,641,765.47 through 9,342 checks during the last fiscal year, an average of $1,139.13 per payout, shattering by 31.8% the department’s previous annual payout record of $8.07 million set in 2021-2022.

“Our Unclaimed Property Fund keeps getting bigger and bigger, no matter how much money we return to its rightful owners,” Wyoming State Treasurer Curt Meier said in a Wednesday press release. “To me that’s really eye-opening when you consider our payments to citizens of the Cowboy State are up more than 30% from the previous record.”

Lots Of Dough Left

More than $104 million still remains in the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund. The largest remaining property in the state’s system is for $1.1 million in Sweetwater County. This still pales in comparison to the $6.7 million a Jackson man netted in unclaimed property late last year.

Unclaimed property is turned over to the state Treasurer’s Office when a business, agency or governmental entity owes money, securities or the contents of a safe deposit box — among other items — to someone and cannot locate the owner after a certain amount of time. Some of the most common sources of payouts include unclaimed life insurance policies, mineral royalties and closed bank accounts.

Robertson said some items have dormancy periods before they can be disbursed. For instance, traveler's checks can’t be paid until 15 years after they’ve been made.

The property is turned over to the state of the last known address, if an address is known. If there is no last known address, it’s turned over to the state in which the business was incorporated.

Last year, the state received $16.2 million in unclaimed property it is responsible for finding rightful owners for. This topped the previous record of $12.8 million.

Robertson couldn’t pinpoint exactly why the state is seeing an increasing amount of unclaimed property almost every year, but he said smaller companies are starting to become more knowledgeable about how unclaimed property works.

Rabbit Holes

Robertson said finding the rightful heirs of unclaimed property can sometimes be a bit of a rabbit hunt, leading his staff to investigate property documents that originate as far back as the 1940s. 

“It can get pretty in-depth by the time we find out what’s owed for it,” he said.

In today’s age of cellphones, Robertson said it can be difficult to track people who previously may have been listed in the White Pages. 

Also a challenge, he said, is convincing people that the service his office offers is not a scam.

“When you call someone up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a bunch of money for you,’ they can be skeptical at first,” Robertson said.

In recent decades, fraudulent “free money” schemes have increased worldwide, such as the well-popularized spam emails from a self-described Nigerian prince offering a small fortune in return for just a little assistance getting to America.

But the payments from the state are legitimate, and Robertson and his staff take pride in the work they do that in some instances can significantly change lives.

“It’s great,” Robertson said. “There’s no better feeling than when you find somebody who had no clue that money was out there.”

Not Up For Grabs

The staff will not give out any money unless it is to a rightful recipient. This means the office could hold onto money for 100 years or more. The state started the Unclaimed Property Division in 1993.

“We’d certainly rather give it to them (rightful recipient) than to let it sit there and just collect interest in state coffers,” Robertson said.

Meier encourages residents and businesses to check the system every year or two to see if they’re owed any money, securities or safe deposit box contents. He said it is estimated that about 10% of the country’s population is entitled to unclaimed property totaling $20 billion.

To make a valid claim online or at any other state’s site, owners will need to provide information about themselves and may need to submit official documents.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter