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Appeals Court Sides with Federal Government Over States in Unclaimed Savings Bond Battle

Posted By Administration, Thursday, August 15, 2019

On Aug. 13, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of the U.S. Treasury in a dispute with Kansas and Arkansas over the handling of unclaimed savings bonds. 

 

The states sought to enforce escheat laws specifying that, if bond owners fail to redeem their savings bonds within five years after maturity, the bonds would be considered abandoned and would transfer to the states two or three years later. When the U.S. Treasury refused the states’ efforts to claim such bonds, the states filed suit. A U.S. Claims Court sided with Kansas and Arkansas, and the federal government appealed.

 

In its reversal, the Appeals Court provided two reasons for ruling in favor of the U.S. Treasury:

  1. Federal law preempts state escheat laws, meaning the bonds belong to the original bond owners rather than the states.
  2. Even if the states owned the bonds, they were not entitled to rights greater than the original bond owners, who must provide the serial number to redeem bonds six years or more past maturity. Because the states don’t have the physical bonds or serial numbers, the Treasury acted properly when denying their redemption request.

Despite the loss, states continue to pursue the estimated $25 billion in unclaimed savings bond funds. On Aug. 1, 2019, Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-Louisiana) introduced S. 2417, the Unclaimed Savings Bond Act of 2019. If passed and signed into law, the bill would give states access to information about unclaimed savings bonds for inclusion in unclaimed property databases and, ultimately, the ability to claim and redeem the bonds. 

 

Before serving in the U.S. Senate, Kennedy was state treasurer in Louisiana. His bill currently has two cosponsors, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana). S. 2417 has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee, where it awaits further action.

Tags:  Arkansas  Kansas  legislation  litigation  savings bonds  U.S. Treasury  unclaimed property 

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