DETROIT – You've probably heard stories about the nearly $2 billion in unclaimed property held by the state of Michigan. And, you might think if you found forgotten cash due your family, it would be super easy to claim that cash. However, one family in Westland found the process doesn't always go smoothly.
"I don't think I'm the only person who has this problem," said Mary Barretta after months of playing detective to claim her family's property.
She was online one day and found unclaimed property belonging to members of her family. Her sister-in-law easily claimed about $400 that was owed to her. So, Barretta thought it would be relatively easy to claim property belonging to her father-in-law and his sister, both deceased.
Barretta could see there were six items connected to John Hancock Life Insurance. "The first thing that comes in anybody's mind is 'Wow, maybe there is something really big here."
Unclaimed property challenges
That's where the first problem came up. The state of Michigan's Treasury Department will not tell you how much money is involved, until you prove you're the rightful owner.
"I don't think that's fair. I think they would be up front about what is in there or at least give you a ballpark figure." Barretta told Help Me Hank. In her case, proving her family is the rightful owner proved to be pretty difficult. Barretta was frustrated because she didn't know if she was working so hard to claim
$15 or $5 million.
Barretta says she started the process in October of 2015 and she was still trying nine months later, when she met with Help Me Hank.
"We sent them the death certificates for everyone. We sent the Social Security numbers, date of birth, date of death and even the obituary in the newspaper showing that he had passed," said Barretta.
In spite of all that information, the state sent a few rejection letters saying it needed one particular item to prove the family's claim. State officials needed the Detroit address where their father lived back in the 1940s. No one in their family could remember that address, which proved very frustrating.
"There must be quite a few people who don't keep really precise records of every address everyone in the family has lived in," said Barretta. They checked public records, visited the Recorder of Deeds office and say they even hired a private detective. Running out of options, Barretta contacted Help Me Hank.
Getting the state's response
We brought her concerns to Terry Stanton, Manager of Unclaimed Property for the Michigan Department of Treasury. He said that Detroit address was the only piece of identifying information the state had on file to verify ownership of the property. "So, unless they could, at some point, verify or identify the address that was connected to that property, it was almost impossible for us to determine it was their's," he said.
Stanton said the state has a duty to be absolutely sure any unclaimed property is released to the right people. According to him, the state has paid out more than $200 million to owners/heirs in the past two years and more than $1 billion dollars in the past thirty years. Currently, the state is the custodian of
$1.96 billion in properties.
What turned the tide?
Once Help Me Hank got involved, we contacted John Hancock Insurance and connected the company with the Barretta family. Finally, the insurance company was able to provide the address the Barrettas needed to file the proper paperwork with the state of Michigan. That assistance allowed the family to start the process to claim about $2,500.
"Should that suggestion have come from the state?" Consumer Investigator Hank Winchester asked Stanton. "It should have and generally does. In this case it doesn't appear that happened ," he answered. "We want to work with them... if their the rightful owner, we want to get that property to them."
The Barretta family would still like to see the process improved, offering alternatives to make a claim. If the insurance company had been out of business, there's no telling if they would have ever been able to find that address.
"I'd say they have to have a more open mind because there is no way that the normal person can pursue this information," said Mary Barretta.
Looking for unclaimed property
If you'd like to know if you have unclaimed property, follow the state weblink below. If you cannot find the information you need you could reach out to family, friends, old neighbors, former employers or insurance companies to fill in the blanks. Remember to go directly to the source, if at all possible.
Hopefully, if you have any hidden cash due you, you'll be able to cash in!
You can also try missingmoney.com to check in multiple states.