Haven't Checked Your Safe Deposit Box In 3 Years? California May Have Seized Your Stuff

There’s a mess going on in the state of California. The state is accused of being overly proactive in seizing private assets that have been “abandoned” and selling them at auction. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Years ago, Carla Ruff stored her grandmother’s jewelry and a file of personal documents in a safe-deposit box at her bank in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, thinking they would always be there when she wanted them.

Not so. Without giving her notice or acting on evidence that she’d forgotten about her cache, the bank’s staff, under the auspice of the state, determined the contents of her box to be unclaimed property.

In July 1997, bank records show, the pearl necklace and diamond-encrusted pin, real estate and insurance documents as well as her birth certificate were all removed. The paperwork was shredded and thrown away. Her jewelry was auctioned off on eBay — for a fraction of its $80,000 value.

Ruff said she didn’t know what had happened until January 2006, when an illness in the family sent her to the Bank of America branch looking for the deed to her house. Weeks later, the bank manager told Ruff that her property had been seized by the state under a law that requires the government to take control of lost or abandoned assets.

The article has several of these stories. California’s asset seizure program is a cash cow for the state, generating $400 million annually from the sale of its citizen’s personal property. Law suits against the state are generally unsuccessful, because an immunity clause is written into the law.

Do you think you might have stuff in peril in California? The collection program has been put on hold by a federal court. You can recover frozen assets that the state might be holding by clicking here. Property is considered abandoned if there’s been no contact between the holding institution and the property owner, but in the case of Carla Ruff, that wasn’t the case. She was an account holder in good standing with the Bank of America branch that turned her property over to the state. Other states also have abandoned property programs. Check to see if yours does. You might find that you are owed some money.

Anguished tales of property taken by state [SF Chronicle]
(Photo: Demedulce)