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Department Publications

Unclaimed Property

You have this nice little “pot” of money sitting in your department’s account.  You’d like to take those funds and spend them on some worthy department need.  The money consists of deposits that students failed to reclaim after returning MCCCD-owned musical instruments for which the deposit secured the return.

Finders keepers, right?  Nope.  Welcome to the world of “unclaimed property,” the name that Arizona law dubs those types of funds. 

But cash isn’t the only unclaimed property to which the law applies.  It also covers items such as checks, money orders, gift certificates and “non-paper” tangible things such as the contents of safety deposit boxes.  By law, individuals, businesses, financial institutions, estates, trusts and governmental entities must file a report annually that identifies any unclaimed property considered to be abandoned.  For Maricopa’s purposes, unclaimed property in our hands is deemed abandoned one year after the close of the fiscal year in which it was payable to the owner. 

By November 1 after the close of that fiscal year, the Treasury Department at the District Office reports on unclaimed, abandoned property in its custody and hands it over to the State.  As an example, Treasury turned over $49,971.16 to the State on November 1, 2006.  That total dollar amount represented 762 individual property items.  As you can tell from doing the math, the law does not make any exception to report and forward property representing small dollar amounts.  Treasury has even reported on and sent to the State an unclaimed payroll check for $.01!

The State is obligated to preserve that property forever in case the rightful owners claim the property, and to expend some effort attempting to contact those owners.  In reality, the State uses that property - cash in particular - for its needs with the idea that it will fund any return of that property, should the rightful owner show up and reclaim it, through a legislative appropriation.

You’ve probably seen a document that the State publishes annually in The Arizona Republic listing the unclaimed property in the State’s custody.  Many of us have probably scanned that list hoping to see our name next to some treasure trove.

What about lost property that we find on our campuses?  Is it considered abandoned and subject to the law?  The answer is that it is not because it is not “abandoned,” that is, presumed to have been purposely left by its owner.

The types of abandoned property that Treasury regularly handles are uncashed payroll and vendor checks, and student credit balances.  At the six-month period after Treasury has issued a check or has otherwise identified some other type of unclaimed property, it sends a letter to the student, employee or vendor at his or her last known address notifying that Maricopa is holding funds belonging to the addressee.  If there isn’t any response, Treasury tracks the property until it becomes “abandoned” under the law.  When it does, Treasury reports and pays it to the State by November 1 of the following year.

The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t presume that any “largess” you find sitting around, such as credit balances, refunds or deposits, is something that you may keep at your campus for your academic program needs.  The State has the rights to those funds, and you’ll need to contact the Treasury Department (Terri Noffke - 18516) and identify them as unclaimed property.

Published in the Winter 2007 Edition of In Brief

Questions or comments?
Contact Lee Combs @ 480.731.8878

Maricopa Community Colleges
Office of General Counsel
2411 West 14th Street
Tempe, AZ 85281-6942
480.731.8877 / 480.731.8890 fax

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Page Updated 01/05/07

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