Join now!   |   Subscribe   |   Pay an Invoice   |   Sign In
Unclaimed Property Focus
Blog Home All Blogs
Search all posts for:   

 

View all (332) posts »
 

2016 Trends are sure to Shape 2017

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 22, 2016

With 2016 coming to an end, the approaching new year offers a good opportunity to look at some of the major trends shaping the unclaimed property landscape. Over the past year, we’ve seen some significant litigation, a slowdown in new legislation and the Uniform Law Commission’s (ULC) release of the 2016 Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (UUPA). All of these noteworthy trends set the stage for what is sure to be an interesting and action-packed 2017 for unclaimed property professionals.

 

Legislation

Unclaimed property professionals have become accustom to a high volume of legislation affecting state unclaimed property statutes. While 2016 wasn’t completely absent of noteworthy bills working their way through the nation’s statehouses, there was a significant slowdown in legislative activity compared to the previous few years.

 

“Looking back at the year, I was struck by the low level of legislative activity,” says Michelle Andre, managing member of Tre Towers Advisory Group LLC. “This may have resulted from 2016 being an election year combined with states knowing the Uniform Law Commission was finalizing the 2016 Uniform Unclaimed Property Act.”

 

Some of the bills that did arise this year added to trends that have been building over the past several years. For example, states continue to modify their gift card rules. Some states that have exemptions from reporting unredeemed balance on gift cards are requiring issuers to provide cash refunds to card owners if the value of the card meets certain dollar amount thresholds. New York recently revised its gift card rules, effective on Dec. 25, delaying the trigger for when issuers can assess a service fee from after the 12th month of dormancy to after the 24th month. Another state, Wyoming removed a sunset provision allowing its gift card exemption to become permanent.

 

States are also continuing to enact provisions requiring life insurance companies to perform routine Death Master File searches. Five states passed such legislation in 2016. Although modeled loosely after the National Conference of Insurance Legislators’ Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act, each of the laws are different. Florida’s law, for example, has a longer reach-back period than most states.

 

Technology has also played a role in some statute revisions as states account for increasing surge in electronic transactions and communication. California, for example revised its unclaimed property law to include electronic transactions as official contacts that prevent accounts from becoming dormant.

 

State laws are finally recognizing that people are communicating electronically rather than by snail mail or phone calls,” Andre says. “Increasingly, people stay in touch with investments via the internet rather than by making a call or waiting for a statement in the mail.”

 

Pennsylvania also included electronic communications provisions within unclaimed property statute revisions that were tucked into a budget bill. However, its treatment of owners who receive electronic communication is inconsistent with owners who receive communication through traditional means.

 

“Pennsylvania’s new statute pertaining to fiduciary accounts and IRAs states that if a holder doesn’t communicate with an owner through U.S. mail but rather electronic mail, then the holder is required to send an email notice to the owner,” says Karen Anderson, senior manager at KPMG. “If the email bounces back or there is no response, then the holder must send a due diligence letter via the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). If that mailing is returned as undelivered, the property would be reportable three years after the last owner activity. On the other hand, if the holder communicates with the owner of such accounts via US mail the account isn’t reportable until three years after the second returned USPS mailing. So, depending upon the holder’s method of communication with owners of these accounts, the Pennsylvania statute requires different due diligence treatment and a different dormancy trigger.”

 

Despite the recent decline in legislative activity, 2017 is likely to bring an immediate surge in new bills as a result of the ULC’s adoption of the 2016 UUPA.

 

“You could tell from recent activity that some states are aware of the language in the new UUPA,” Andre says. “Because the revised act addresses so many new areas addressed and is a true modernization of the act, I expect to see a flurry of activity resulting from it. States have been reviewing the act and planning what they’ll do, so there will likely be a lot of activity in early 2017.”

 

Some of the provisions that could gain traction address jurisdictional standards and triggers for property types not previously included in the act, such as health savings accounts and 529 college savings plans. The popularity among states of other areas remain less certain.

 

“It’s difficult to say whether state legislatures will adopt the transparency measures pertaining to audits that were built into the 2016 Uniform Unclaimed Property Act,” Anderson says. “Some of these provisions include reporting certain statistics regarding use of auditors. I’m not sure whether states will adopt those provisions as they may consider them too intrusive to their process.”

 

Litigation

While legislation slowed in 2016, noteworthy litigation didn’t show any signs of decreasing. Some of the most noteworthy areas being reviewed by ongoing and recently decided cases include:

  • Foreign property: JLI Invest S.A. et al. v. Cook et al. tackles the interplay between federal securities law, international law and Delaware state law. 
  • Derivative rights: “The Bed Bath and Beyond case will give some renewed emphasis to holders that they can assert derivative rights concepts in demonstrating that items states think are unclaimed property are actually not,” says Diann Smith, state and local tax attorney at McDermott Will & Emery. “So we could see similar types of litigation in other states, and derivative rights asserted in other property types beyond merchandise credits.”
  • Gift cards: Delaware ex rel. French v. Card Compliant LLC raises the question whether property holders can shift their liability via a contractual arrangement with another company.
  • Jurisdictional issues: Multiple cases involving MoneyGram consider whether certain unclaimed funds are governed by the general priority rules or by the specific rules of the Federal Disposition Act.
  • Benefit plans: “States frequently take the position that while the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) may preempt them from claiming property in ERISA-covered plans, they still have the authority to audit them,” Smith says. “So ERISA continues to be a problem that will likely play out via litigation.”
  • Savings bonds: States are increasingly looking to the U.S. government for unclaimed property funds in the form of unredeemed savings bonds. Especially noteworthy is Florida’s use of estimation to claim the United States owes the state $1 billion from unredeemed savings bonds.

 

As expected going into 2016, Temple-Inland Inc. v. Cook proved to be the most intriguing case of the year. On June 28, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware issued an opinion granting Temple-Inland’s request for summary judgment. The court called several aspects of Delaware’s audit practices “troubling.” On Aug. 5, 2016, Temple-Inland and the defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss the case, signaling a settlement and ending the dispute. 

 

Audits/VDAs

The full ripple effect from Temple-Inland on audits and estimation practices remains to be seen, but the settlement immediately triggered changes to Delaware’s voluntary disclosure agreement (VDA) program. Delaware reduced the look-back period for VDAs to 10 years plus dormancy, rather than the previous static date of 1996. The Delaware Department of Finance also is recommending changes to the state’s record revision provision for unclaimed property.

 

“There is more uncertainty now in terms of where things are going with both Delaware audits and the VDA program than I’ve seen before,” says Susan Han, principal, abandoned and unclaimed property consulting for Ryan. “This comes on the heels of the Temple-Inland decision and subsequent settlement, as well as changes we anticipate when the new legislative session begins in January.”

 

In the meantime, audit activity involving estimations in Delaware has essentially come to a halt, according to Troy Wangen, director of unclaimed property for True Partners Consulting LLC.

 

I think Temple-Inland is going to be game-changing for years to come,” he says. “Will other states look to benefit from this? Do holders look to benefit from it? Is there a potential for refunds? This all depends on what happens with estimation in that state in 2017. It could significantly change things.”

 

Another noteworthy audit trend is an increase in the number of audit firms in the unclaimed property marketplace. Particularly in Delaware, where a large percentage of audits have traditionally been handled by a single company, multiple firms are now auditing holders.

 

“Litigation shined a light on Delaware’s practice of giving most of its audit business to one firm,” Han says. “So the state enacted S.B. 11, which provides that no audit firm can be assigned more than 50 percent of all examinations commenced after Jan. 1, 2015. As a result, we are seeing both established and newer third-party auditors becoming much more active in unclaimed property.”

 

Looking Ahead

As 2017 unfolds, UPPO will continue to track and report on these and other developing trends. Watch this blog for updates and attend UPPO educational events to help you adapt to the ever-evolving unclaimed property environment.

 

 

Tags:  advocacy  audits  legislation  litigation  RUUPA  ULC  unclaimed property 

Share |
Permalink | Comments (0)
 
Membership Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal