Over $149 million in unclaimed money from dormant accounts in B.C.

THERE is now more than $149 million in unclaimed money from dormant accounts in B.C. available to be claimed by the rightful owners according to the most recent financial statements released by the not-for-profit BC Unclaimed Property Society (BCUPS), which serves as a “lost and found” for forgotten funds in the province. This includes an outstanding $1.9 million estate the legal heirs are unaware of – the largest unclaimed account in the BCUPS’s database.

BCUPS (unclaimedpropertybc.ca) is the administrator of British Columbia’s unclaimed property program. The Society’s mission is to put unclaimed money from dormant accounts back in the hands of the rightful owners. BCUPS also works with companies and organizations to help get dormant assets off their books.

In 2020, BCUPS returned $1,035,932 from dormant accounts to verified claimants who were unaware they had forgotten assets. The Society received $4,858,925 last year in unclaimed funds from the courts, the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia, credit unions, insurance companies, various levels of government, and companies in liquidation to be reunited with the rightful owners.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended British Columbians’ financial well-being prompting many cash-strapped individuals to look for non-traditional sources of funds such as unclaimed assets,” said Alena Levitz, Executive Director of the BC Unclaimed Property Society, on Monday. “Last year there was a significant increase in the number of people reaching out to BCUPS to inquire whether they had unclaimed funds waiting for them. BCUPS received more than 200,000 website visits in 2020, a 134 percent increase over the previous year. We also received 13,834 general inquiries during the year, a 171 percent increase over 2019.”

BCUPS holds unclaimed property as the custodian for rightful owners under the BC Unclaimed Property Act. The Society tracks down owners of dormant accounts and maintains a free online database (unclaimedpropertybc.ca/searchp/search/) where people can search to see if they have any forgotten money waiting for them. If someone finds a dormant account in their name, they can claim the funds by completing a simple verification process that firmly establishes their identity as the rightful owner. There are no costs for BCUPS’s services, and no time limit imposed to claim forgotten funds.

Most unclaimed accounts in BCUPS’s database amount to between $300 to $500. The single largest unclaimed property payout by BCUPS was a $1.01 million estate made in 2019.

Dormant accounts administered by BCUPS apply only to provincially regulated financial institutions, companies and organizations, which includes inactive credit union accounts, as well as an unpaid wages, outstanding insurance payments, overpayments to debt collectors, proceeds from courts, pension funds, estates and real estate deposits. They do not include dormant bank accounts, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Bank of Canada. Across Canada, three provinces have unclaimed property programs in place (Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec) covering provincially regulated companies and financial institutions. Unclaimed property legislation was introduced in New Brunswick in November 2019.

Technically, an account is deemed to be dormant in B.C. when a specified period of time has transpired with no activity, from a year to 10 years, depending on the type of account involved. Under B.C. law, credit unions, debt collection agencies, real estate agencies, companies in liquidation, municipal and provincial courts and municipalities, which are classified as mandatory holders, are required to make a “reasonable effort” to identify inactive account holders, before transferring these funds to BCUPS. Other organizations holding trust funds, insurance policies, brokerage accounts and closed pension plans are encouraged to voluntarily transfer their unclaimed property accounts to BCUPS if the rightful owners cannot be located.

BCUPS was established in 2003 by the Province of British Columbia and Vancouver Foundation (vancouverfoundation.ca) to administer B.C.’s unclaimed property program. Since its inception, BCUPS has returned more than $18.5 million in forgotten funds to the rightful owners.

One of the unique aspects of BCUPS is its philanthropic business model. British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in North America that has designated a not-for-profit society to administer its unclaimed property program where a portion of inactive funds are allocated each year for charitable purposes. Last year, BCUPS transferred $6.98 million to Vancouver Foundation to address community and social issues. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vancouver Foundation used a portion of these funds as seed capital to help establish the Community Response Fund (CRF) in partnership with Vancity credit union, United Way Lower Mainland, and the City of Vancouver. The CRF provided essential relief to BC charities impacted by COVID-19 that provide health and social services as well as arts, culture, and other community benefits.