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Trolling for assets

July 14, 2007

Re "Lost track of those old assets? The state may have seized them," July 9

The situation is even worse than you describe. About 20 years ago, I found out that I had $50 being held by the state. Over the years, I have sent in the proper paperwork to claim my money at least half a dozen times. I never got a response. When I inquired about it, I was told that the state had no record of receiving the paperwork -- even when it was mailed "return receipt requested" -- and I would have to submit the paperwork again. At this point I have given up trying to collect my $50.

CLIFFORD A. SCHAFFER

Agua Dulce

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Under the California Abandoned Property Law, an underlying asset will be seized if an attached asset is not claimed in three years. For example, many shareholders and bondholders accumulate dividend and bond interest checks and put them in a drawer, etc.

Because the checks are outstanding, the state assumes that the underlying asset is abandoned. Thus, it can and will seize stocks and bonds after the three-year period.

I learned this more than 20 years ago when I represented a Fortune 500 corporation negotiating escheatment with the state of California. Word of advice: Cash your checks when you get them.

ROBERT PISAPIA

Westlake Village

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The Times did not go far enough in exposing the state as a wayward profiteer. Upon visiting my credit union recently, I was told that my savings account was already in the queue to be claimed by the state. When I asked why, since I've been regularly receiving statements that clearly had my correct address, I was told that I had to make regular transactions, such as depositing or withdrawing $1 from the account to show it is active. So now it is against the rules to just collect interest. Incredible!

DAN D. GUTIERREZ

Los Angeles

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About 20 years ago, at the urging of a friend, I attended a California state controller's office auction of unclaimed property from safe deposit boxes. Since then, I have read of sporadic lawsuits filed against financial institutions for turning dormant accounts over to the state, the basis for the suits always being the failure of property owners to reply to notices sent them. It is sad that people have lost property through escheat; however, it is absurd to put the blame solely on the comptroller's office.

If a safe deposit box holder stops paying rent and fails to respond to notices, why shouldn't the owner be evicted? True, there will be situations, such as illness, that preclude a property owner from maintaining the necessary contact to prevent dormancy, but these situations constitute the minority. The bottom line is that the escheat most often occurs because of the negligence of the property owner or the failure of the financial institutions to practice due diligence in locating the missing owners.

JOHANNA PICK

Los Angeles

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