2017-02-16 / Opinion

Florida CFO asks feds to notify holders of unclaimed federal savings bonds

Dear Fellow Floridians:

Late last year, I filed a lawsuit against the federal government. I did so over $1 billion in unclaimed federal savings bonds. As part of our unclaimed property program, we assume custody over the contents of abandoned safe deposit boxes, and we began noticing a great number of federal savings bonds within them. However, even though we had physical ownership of the bond, the federal government would not redeem its value, meaning that we couldn’t even attempt to reunite the funds with the original owner.

We dove in to learn more and, as the process unfolded, we discovered that the U.S. Treasury made little effort to notify owners when their bonds had matured, and virtually no effort to find missing owners. This isn’t just a Florida problem. While we believe that nearly $1 billion is owed to individuals with last known addresses in Florida, it’s estimated that nearly $19 billion in matured, unclaimed federal bonds exist nationwide. Seeing that each state has an unclaimed property program, and ours here in Florida happens to be very successful, it makes sense that the federal government should redeem the funds and enable our program to search for the bond owners as we do for all of the unclaimed property in our custody.

A suit was filed in November 2016, and I am happy to announce that late last week the U.S. Treasury agreed to redeem the first batch of these bonds, for those in our physical possession and bonds for which we had records and had previously returned to the U.S. Treasury, so we’re already getting the ball rolling on those. We plan to place the value of these bonds back into the hands of the consumers to whom they belong, or their heirs if that’s not possible. Currently, just over 1,000 bonds are being redeemed, worth a little more than half a million dollars, excluding accrued interest. We’re a long way from the finish line, but it’s a win worth celebrating.

If you recall, we engaged in another fight on the unclaimed property front last year, and we were ultimately successful there as well. We championed a change in law that requires life insurance companies to actively seek out life insurance beneficiaries when benefits become due. If the insurance company can’t find the beneficiary, the policy benefits must be turned over to the state so that our team can work to return the funds. For years before the law was changed, our office worked alongside the insurance commissioner and the attorney general to get life insurance companies to change their tune through regulatory settlement agreements. Many companies cooperated, and we continue our efforts to bring every last company to the table.

Some companies, regardless of their press statements and public promises, continue to fight against the new law we passed, and we continue to fight back. As long as I’m in office, I will work until the very last day to hold life insurance companies accountable for doing the right thing by their policyholders, not their shareholders.

It never ceases to amaze me the personal stories of the consumers we’re able to reach and return life insurance benefits to -- the impact is real, and it’s an honor to be part of this process. I recently had the pleasure of personally returning a check for nearly $60,000 to three sisters from Jacksonville who had no idea that their late father had a life insurance policy and that his benefits were now owed to them. He died several years ago and I wish they’d received their money right away, but they’ve got it now and I was proud to be able to give to them.

We hope to connect even more residents in Jacksonville with unclaimed property as we will be hosting one of our Unclaimed Property Phone Banks with Jacksonville’s “First Coast News” on Thursday, February 9. If you live in the Jacksonville area and are wondering if you have unclaimed property in your name, tune into “First Coast News” from 12:30-6:00 p.m., call us at 1-888-258- 2253 or visit www.FLTreasureHunt.org to see if we have an account in your name.

Return to top