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UNCLAIMED PROPERTY FOCUS is a blog written by and for UPPO members, featuring diverse perspectives and insights from unclaimed property practitioners across the U.S. and Canada. We welcome your submissions to Unclaimed Property Focus. Please contact Tim Dressen via tim@uppo.org with any questions about submitting a blog post for consideration and refer to our editorial guidelines when writing your blog post. Disclaimer: Information and/or comments to this blog is not intended as a substitute for legal advice on compliance or reporting requirements.

 

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Litigation Update: Court Dismisses $14.5 Billion Case Against Life Insurers

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 30, 2019

On April 3, 2019, New York Supreme Court Justice Andrea Masley granted a motion to dismiss by defendant life insurers in Total Asset Recovery Services LLC v. Met Life Inc., a whistleblower (qui tam) case brought by audit firm Total Asset Recovery Services on behalf of the state of New York. 

 

Filed in 2010 and amended by TARS in 2011 and 2017 under the New York False Claims Act, the case alleged that nearly a dozen life insurance companies failed to escheat to the state unclaimed funds held under mature life insurance policies. The plaintiff alleged more than $14.5 billion in damages.

 

TARS based its claim, in part, on the defendant life insurers’ alleged failure to use the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File to locate beneficiaries of deceased insureds and to report and escheat to the state funds that had not been claimed by the beneficiaries. However, the court pointed out in its ruling that insurance companies had no obligation to search the DMF when the case brought in 2010. New York did not require such searches until April 2012. 

 

“TARS’ assertion that death alone, not proof of death triggers the three-year dormancy period of escheatment requirement… lacks merit. The pleadings do not allege that any of the defendants received notice and proof of death of any insureds,” the court wrote. 

 

The court also denied a request to amend its pleading, saying it had already done so twice and “any further amendment would be futile.” 

 

Created and maintained by the Social Security Administration, the Death Master File has been a controversial tool. Government agencies and private businesses rely on the DMF to verify the death of U.S. citizens, but questions about its accuracy and, thus, reliability continue to make it a contentious issue among insurers, consumers, government agencies and politicians. Life insurers’ use of the DMF has been a source of debate, scrutiny, litigation and regulation in recent years.

Tags:  Death Master File  DMF  qui tam  whistleblower 

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The State of Online Reporting

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 23, 2019

Many of the transactions we complete on any given day occur online. Whether we’re banking, shopping or ordering pizza, online options have increasingly become the default method of getting things done. This is also true in the world of unclaimed property reporting, where more states are accepting and, in many cases, requiring holders to submit their reports online.

 

Currently, 29 U.S. jurisdictions require online reporting. In most cases, these states will not accept paper or non-online electronic formats (CD, DVD, USB, diskette, email): Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. 

 

Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington require negative reports to be filed online, but accept CDs for positive filings. New Hampshire requires reports of 20 or more records to be filed online. Oklahoma requires online reporting for 15 or more properties but accepts either reports online or via CD for fewer than 15 properties. Puerto Rico’s online filing requirement applies only to holders in the insurance industry. Michigan and the District of Columbia still accept CDs but strongly recommend online filing and are in the process of moving to an online-only requirement. 

 

Almost all U.S. jurisdictions (43) have online reporting capabilities even if they still allow other methods. However, 11 jurisdictions do not currently accept online reports: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, New Mexico, North Carolina, Vermont and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

 

As recently as five years ago, only 10 jurisdictions required online reporting. It’s likely that all states will soon have online report acceptance capabilities and that more of them will accept online reports exclusively as this trend continues. 

 

For detailed information about reporting deadlines, dormancy periods, due diligence requirements, exemptions and deductions, electronic filing and much more, UPPO members can refer to the Jurisdiction Resource Guide

 

Tags:  electronic reporting  online reporting 

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Litigation Update: Chancery Court Sides with Univar, Takes Issue with Delaware

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 16, 2019

State of Delaware, Dept. of Finance v. Univar, Inc., C.A.

On Dec. 3, 2018, Univar Inc. filed a lawsuit against Delaware Department of Finance officials in a Delaware District Court, alleging that several aspects of an unclaimed property audit initiated by third-party auditor Kelmar in 2015 on Delaware’s behalf are unconstitutional.

According to Univar’s complaint, for more than two years Delaware rejected or ignored objections it had made to document requests from Kelmar. In December 2018, Delaware issued a subpoena for the records Kelmar had previously requested. Univar filed suit, raising constitutional issues regarding:

  • Delaware’s retroactive application of amendments to the Delaware Abandoned and Unclaimed Property Law.
  • The state’s estimation methodology.
  • The state’s use of a third-party auditor that simultaneously represents other states in a multi-state audit.
  • The state’s contingent-fee arrangement with its third-party auditor.
On Dec. 7, 2018, Delaware responded to Univar’s lawsuit by filing its own lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court, seeking to force Univar to comply with its subpoena. Univar filed a motion asking the court to put Delaware’s lawsuit on hold until the constitutional issues at play in its original lawsuit were resolved.

Following a hearing on April 8, 2019, the Chancery Court judge granted Univar’s request. Delaware responded by requesting an interlocutory appeal – an accelerated appeal of the ruling, which can be granted in extraordinary circumstances. On May 6, 2019, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III denied the request and took exception with Delaware’s actions.

“The State continues to press its strategy of having two courts litigate the same constitutional challenges to the same Delaware statutes at the same time. The inefficiencies of this approach are apparently lost on the State. They are not lost on the Court,” Slights wrote in his decision.

UPPO will continue to monitor and report on the Univar case as noteworthy developments occur.

Tags:  audits  Delaware  estimation  litigation  Univar 

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UPPO Advocacy Update: May 2019

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 9, 2019

To help members remain aware of UPPO’s advocacy activities, the Unclaimed Property Focus blog presents the recurring Advocacy Update when legislatures are active or significant advocacy activity has occurred. Following are recent activities and trends from UPPO’s Government Relations and Advocacy Committee (GRAC).

 

Colorado Passes RUUPA-Inspired Bill

Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed S.B. 88 into law on April 16, 2019. The RUUPA-inspired bill includes provisions that eliminate the state’s previous reporting deduction, allow for estimation, reduce several dormancy periods, define virtual currency and stored-value cards as escheatable property types, and maintain the state’s gift card exemption. 

 

The new law becomes effective on July 1, 2020, allowing holders to become familiar with its provisions and appropriately adjust their practices. 

 

Other Noteworthy Bills on the Move

Texas H.B. 3598 revises unclaimed property recordkeeping requirements and provides guidelines for affiliated group reporting. It stipulates that the state may not begin an unclaimed property examination after the seventh anniversary of the date a person filed a property report and removes the condition that the existence of unclaimed property be unknown to the holder for longer than three years for it to be presumed abandoned. On May 3, 2019, the House passed the bill and subsequently sent it to the Senate. 

 

Two additional states recently introduced RUUPA-inspired bills. Following the trend set by other states that have introduced RUUPA-inspired legislation, these bills deviate from the intent of RUUPA to provide uniformity across the states and to establish consumer-friendly practices that are also reasonable for holders and the states. 

 

Maine’s Judiciary Committee is currently reviewing L.D. 1544, the state’s RUUPA-inspired legislation.

 

Vermont’s RUUPA-inspired bill, H.B. 550, was fast-tracked through the House. Following its initial committee reading on April 26, the House passed the bill just five days later and sent it to the Senate for review. The bill includes language that may be problematic for holders in the financial services industry, as it appears to eliminate the linkage provision allowing customer activity on one account to also act as activity on the customer’s other accounts held by the same company.  

 

GRAC Develops New Structure

Seeking to refine its processes and operate as efficiently as possible, GRAC is in the process of implementing a new structure consisting of four sections. The committee has established responsibilities for each section and a process for section leaders to report to the GRAC co-chairs. The four GRAC sections are:

  • Issue Identification: Identifies important issues and determines legislative, regulatory and legal issues to address.
  • Position and Policy Drafting: Determines the strategy for addressing identified issues and writes support materials for doing so.
  • Strategy Implementation: Executes the strategy, working with legislators, regulators and other officials to promote UPPO’s position.
  • Communication: Works with UPPO staff to update members about advocacy initiatives. 

 

As more and more legislatures and regulatory agencies take on issues affecting unclaimed property compliance, advocacy has become an increasingly important role for UPPO.

Please take a few minutes to complete our 
Government Relations and Advocacy Survey to help us build our grassroots network. Responses will give us the ability to mobilize UPPO members when we are faced with legislative and regulatory challenges and opportunities.

 

 

Tags:  Colorado  Maine  RUUPA  Texas  unclaimed property  Vermont 

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Making the Case for a California VDA Program

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 2, 2019

In March, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office issued the report, Increasing Compliance with Unclaimed Property Laws, in which it recommends the state legislature consider providing one-time amnesty for holders seeking to come into compliance voluntarily. UPPO supports and has been working to encourage implementation of a voluntary disclosure agreement program in California.

 

The LAO report provides a compelling case for offering a VDA program, focusing on two areas:

  • Holder compliance with the state’s unclaimed property law is extremely low.
  • Increasing holder compliance solely by increasing audits is not viable. 

 

The California State Controller’s Office reported that 16,555 of the state’s estimated 900,000 businesses – approximately 2 percent – filed an unclaimed property report in 2016. According to the LAO report, the Controller’s Office cites lack of awareness and willful noncompliance as the main reasons for low compliance and speculates that high interest rates (12 percent per year) on unreported property may contribute to businesses choosing to remain noncompliant. 

 

Although revenue from unclaimed property in California has remained relatively flat for a few decades, the state significantly benefits from escheated property. 

 

“The value of property remitted to the state always exceeds the value of property reunited with owners,” according to the LAO report. “This difference provides a monetary benefit to the state… The amount that is not reunited with owners or used for unclaimed property administration provides a source of General Fund revenue.” 

 

Increased compliance with unclaimed property laws would benefit California citizens and the state itself. As more holders report, more owners would be reunited with what is rightfully theirs, and state revenue would increase because only a fraction of reported property is ever actually claimed.  

 

California’s governor has proposed increasing compliance by adding 11 positions and $1.6 million annually for unclaimed property audits and support activities. The LAO report points out that, while audits are an important deterrent, the scale of audits is too great to adequately address the lack of compliance. 

 

“With only a couple of dozen audits conducted each year, SCO cannot change the behavior of the hundreds of thousands of California businesses that are not complying with unclaimed property law,” the report says. “As such, this approach is unlikely to result in much additional compliance relative to current trends.”

 

The LAO offers two solutions:

  1. Amend the state’s tax law to require businesses to respond to a question about unclaimed property compliance as part of their annual tax filings. The question or series of questions would be purely informational, intended to increase awareness of unclaimed property responsibilities. 
  2. Provide a one-time amnesty for noncompliance holders. Such a program would waive the 12 percent per year interest penalty for holders coming into compliance. A two-year amnesty program in 2001-02 resulted in 4,927 holder reports valued at $196 million, representing about a quarter of the property escheated during those years. 

Approximately 30 U.S. jurisdictions currently offer holder VDAs. UPPO supports legislation to implement one in California. Such programs benefit citizens, holders and states alike. 

 

UPPO has supported past legislation that would establish a VDA program, has offered its assistance to help develop a mutually beneficial VDA program and recently registered as a lobbyist in the state of California to continue working on this issue. 

 

UPPO will continue to provide member updates on this issue as developments occur. Please see UPPO’s Advocacy page for additional information about the association’s advocacy work and how you can get involved. 

Tags:  california  VDA  voluntary disclosure agreements 

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