BISMARCK — A few weeks before Christmas, a woman found out from North Dakota officials she was getting an unexpected present: a check for more than $500,000 from the state's Unclaimed Properties Division.
“I get a great amount of joy giving people their money back,” said Kaitlyn Leingang, a representative of the agency that helped connect the unnamed woman with her money.
Leingang was able to talk with the woman who received the funds, adding it was a great Christmas gift. It was all because the woman filed a claim with the division.
That's just one story of people being reunited with property likely thought lost. Not everyone who has unclaimed property will get a large amount, Leingang said, but they could get something to boost their bank accounts.
As of Dec. 21, the state had about 360,000 properties totaling approximately $108 million, the division said. Minnesota had about $900 million as of Tuesday, Dec. 30, the state Department of Commerce said.
The agencies are eager to reunite that money with its rightful owners, they said. The stakeholders just need to make a claim to it.
"We're holding the money, and we want it very much to get back to you," Leingang said. "It's your money, and it is here waiting for you."
Each state and several federal agencies in the U.S. have portals residents, businesses and even cities can use to claim property. North Dakota has returned nearly $83 million as of Tuesday, Dec. 29, while Minnesota has given more than $570 million back to stakeholders.
Finding and claiming property in both states is similar. In North Dakota, searchers can go to unclaimedproperty.nd.gov and type in the last name or business of those who potentially have unclaimed property. For Minnesota, the address is mn.gov/commerce/consumers/your-money/find-missing-money.
Both sites will list the name of the owner, who holds the property and a range for the worth of the property. Claimants will need several documents to confirm ownership.
Most property is intangible, Leingang said, meaning it is monetary instead of a physical piece of property. Sometimes the agencies get safety deposit boxes.
However, most properties are money, such as refunds, royalties, payroll checks or funds from old bank accounts, Leingang said.
Typically, money comes to the Unclaimed Property Division because someone moved and didn’t provide a proper forwarding address, Leingang said. Her agency deals with some estate property after people die.
The two states couldn’t disclose exact amounts owed to certain stakeholders, citing laws meant to prevent fraud.
The city of Fargo has 16 properties it can claim under various names, including Fargo Public Health, the city’s wastewater plant and the “City of Fargo,” according to North Dakota’s unclaimed property website. It doesn’t disclose the exact amounts, but most are for over $100.
The city attempts to claim property it's owed annually, said Gregg Schildberger, Fargo director of communications and government affairs. Staff checks the state website or may receive a letter informing them of unclaimed property, he added.
“It is usually done around the end of the year, as we need to submit any unclaimed property the city is holding by Nov. 1,” he said in an email. “If the city is entitled to funds and those funds are received, they are deposited into the general fund.”
The process of reclaiming property is the same for everyone, whether an individual is claiming it or a city is trying to get the funds, Leingang said. Everyone must submit a claim and provide the proper documentation.
“Please note, however, that the city, or any owner listed for property, is supposed to receive a letter from the holder prior to them submitting the finds to our department,” she said.
The oldest property on record dates back to 1946, Leingang said. There is no time limit on when that money can be claimed, she added, noting it belongs to someone.
When asked if a lot of people know about unclaimed property, Leingang said “not as many as we would like to.” North Dakota lists unclaimed properties in newspapers early in the year, she said, hoping people will see what is owed to them.
This year, the division plans to send letters out to potential owners.
“We do want people to know about it because it is sitting here waiting for you,” Leingang said. “We do very much want people to get their money back.”