Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Lost and Found

Most people don't think about a state running a lost and found department. However, in a good number of instances, the Legislature of the State of Delaware have passed bills into law that have had the State holding on to property unclaimed by others. The Delaware State Escheator (at the Delaware Division of Revenue) is responsible for maintaining and safeguarding property that has been abandoned by its owner for an extended period of time. You may ask what types of abandoned property, and what do you mean by escheator?

Here are some examples that can be found on the Unclaimed Property page of the Division of Revenue.

  • Dormant Bank Accounts

  • Lost or Forgotten Uncashed Checks

  • Stock or Bonds, Dividends & Bond Interest

  • Insurance Proceeds

  • Utility Refunds

  • Safe Deposit Box Contents

With some of these examples, it's easy to see how some property might go without being missed and remain unclaimed.

The word escheat comes from the time of feudalism, when a person was granted a hold, or lease on land by the owner of the land in exchange for the return of future "knightly" duties or occasional payment. The granting of the property was known as the giving of a fief, or hold on the property for the life of the person receiving it, and was often transferred to the heirs of the property holder. The word escheat means that the fief is returned to the lord when the property holder has no heir.

The word "escheator" is meant to refer to the person holding the property when there seems to be no one to claim the property, and the original owner cannot be reached. In many instances the original owner is known. The Division of Revenue page includes an index to pages where property owners' names are listed. You might want to take a peak and see if you or someone you know is on one of those lists. The State needs help in keeping its lost and find department to a minimum size.

There is also a link on the Delaware page to a States' National Database. Good luck.
- William Slawski

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