ESCHEATMENT

What is Escheatment?

Escheatment is the process of submitting abandoned or unclaimed funds or property to the state.

Its origins date back to the Roman Empire, and it became an established part of English Common Law.

In England and Wales, it is managed within the Bona Vacantia process. Bona Vacantia means vacant goods and is the name given to ownerless property, which by law passes to the Crown. The Treasury Solicitor acts for the Crown to administer the estates of people who die intestate (without a Will) and without known kin (entitled blood relatives) and collect the assets of dissolved companies and other various ownerless goods in England and Wales.

Escheatment is an established process in many other countries including the USA that has developed into a de facto Dormant Account management system for the Government.

Escheatment in the USA

Each US state has its own Escheatment legislation which enable it to seize assets that are deemed (by the state) to be “abandoned” or “unclaimed property”. These assets can include anything from a small uncashed dividend cheque to a $50m house.

Escheated property is usually sold, and the proceeds are used by the state until they are reclaimed.

Escheatment has become a significant source of revenue for many states. In 2022 for instance the state of Delaware took in $349 million from escheated property, which represented 6% of its entire revenue.

Each state has its own defined periods of inactivity after which property can be deemed to be “abandoned”. Those period range from 1-7 years dependent upon the type of asset.

There are some consistent elements of escheatment across all states;

  1. Advance Notification: the owner must be given a reasonable period of notice in writing that their assets are going to be escheated; and
  2. Right of Reclaim: the escheated property or the proceeds from its sale can be reclaimed by the owner, the owner’s representative, or the owner’s Executors if the owner is deceased.

UK Residents and Businesses

A significant volume of assets owned by UK residents and UK based businesses have been escheated over the last 40 years and never reclaimed.

Escheatment is a process of which most UK citizens are totally unaware, and do not realise the risk involved if the Company holding or managing their assets in the US does not have the correct contact information for them.

There are also many situations in which a UK resident or business might be completely unaware that they own assets in the USA which are therefore become particularly vulnerable to escheatment. The most common of these scenarios are that someone:

  1. became entitled to an inheritance which they never received or were unaware.
  2. worked for an American company and were not aware of shares or other benefits to which they were entitled after their employment ended.
    An example of this would be UK employees of companies such as Microsoft or Amazon that have a range of employee share schemes for which UK employees are eligible. Share entitlements from these schemes will be held in the USA and are therefore liable to escheatment. If the UK resident shareholder doesn’t ensure that the contact details held by the relevant US Transfer Agent (Registrar) are accurate they will not be notified of any potential escheatment.
  3. owned shares in a UK company that was acquired an American company and were not informed of the change of ownership. A classic example would be an ex-employee shareholder of Cadburys who had moved and not informed the Cadburys Registrar before the acquisition of Cadburys by Kraft in 2010. The Registrar would not then be able to inform them that they now owned entitlements and shares that were held in the USA and again vulnerable to escheatment.
  4. owned assets that were managed by a non-US company that was acquired by or merged with an American company who had moved but not informed the Registrar before the acquisition or merger. The Registrar would not then be able to inform them that they now owned entitlements and shares that were held in the USA and again vulnerable to escheatment.

Reclaiming Escheated Property

Each state has its own claim process which can be viewed online. These processes are essentially designed for US citizens resident in the USA.

The primary options available to make a reclaim are:

  1. do it yourself by following the relevant State claim process.
  2. Identify and appoint a US attorney which specialises in escheatment claims.
  3. Use a UK law firm such as BCH which has established a simple “no win no fee” US Escheatment Reclaim Service.

Bower Cotton Hamilton Escheatment Reclaim Service

BCH provides a “no win no fee” reclaim service specifically designed for overseas residents with property that has been escheated in the USA. It can manage both the reclaim of the proceeds of the escheated property and any related compensation claim in the event of non-compliance with the relevant legislation. BCH combines a UK presence with partners in the US that have practical know how of making successful escheatment claims to make the claim process as easy as possible. If you have received a letter concerning escheatment from BCH, please contact us as instructed on that letter. If you have not received a letter from us but believe that you have had assets escheated in the USA please contact us at escheatment@bowercotton.co.uk if you would like to learn more about the options available to reclaim your property.