Unclaimed money in South Carolina is not uncommon. Legal settlements or insurance claims that have yet to be fulfilled are some of the sources of these funds. However, many South Carolinians remain unaware that their money could lie dormant in South Carolina’s Unclaimed Property Program until they can be claimed.

Curtis Loftis of South Carolina currently manages this program which currently holds more than $850 million in unclaimed property belonging to South Carolinians who are missing funds or have abandoned assets held as safekeeping by the state. According to the Treasurer’s Accountability Report, 41.2 million of this property was returned back to its rightful owners during fiscal year 2021-2022 alone.

Loftis found his work “better odds than the lottery – and free” He described how one of his favorite parts was helping reunite unclaimed money to its rightful owners.

Millions of Unclaimed South Carolina
Millions of Unclaimed South Carolina

Loftis’ office is responsible for managing an overwhelming volume of data regarding unclaimed properties belonging to South Carolina residents from both past and present, such as utility deposits or bank account balances that remain untouched, uncashed checks, shares dividends settlements estate payouts proceeds from insurance claims – just to name a few forms of intangible assets which might belong to people from South Carolina living anywhere from years ago or right now.

Notable figures in our database include George and Barbara Bush, Henry McMaster, Jimmy Carter and Nikki Haley – to name but a few.

Loftis noted that many are shocked to find out their unclaimed property is sitting with the state, so he advised searching the database not only for themselves but also friends, family, neighbors, churches or organizations that might also hold property that belongs to them.

Loftis noted, “the money is out there – all it needs are people to claim it.”

Funds that go missing may have fallen through the cracks; simple errors like misspelled names and incorrect addresses are usually to blame. States receive unclaimed property all year-round; however, November and December witness an enormous surge of unclaimed assets being added to their databases.

FITSNews’ investigation revealed that unclaimed funds in the state database related to litigation remain unclaimed – suggesting the same system that allowed disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh to misappropriate millions from his clients over an 11-year period is also keeping millions away from their rightful owners. Although funds have been dispersed and paid out, they simply are not making their way into bank accounts of beneficiaries.

Multiple factors play a part in this situation, including unclaimed utility deposits from people moving away or forgetting they owed money. Court cases like personal injury suits, negotiated settlements and probate proceedings remain shrouded in mystery for those without legal degrees and create significant obstacles in their way.

Readers familiar with our coverage of Murdaugh may recall that his victims often were unaware their cases had been settled; loans were taken out without their knowledge from trust funds belonging to others; while still others only received part of what was due. Furthermore, bookkeepers at his former firm weren’t aware there was a problem until over 10 years had gone by; by that point Murdaugh’s clients owed millions due to money recovered through claims but stolen back from them.

Court cases often last years to complete and adjudicate, leaving both attorneys and clients easily lost in the system.

If a settlement involves multiple parties, checks may need to be issued individually for each. Attorney fees and costs like medical bills will likely need to be deducted before client checks can be cut – making such factors unavoidable in such instances.

This issue is widespread: law firms representing hundreds of clients are represented in a database and some firms only contain one or two entries while others contain many more. While this could be seen as loose bookkeeping practices or poor communication among attorneys and their clients at certain stages in the process – at some point communication ceased despite money being on the line – there may also be money at stake here that needs to be discussed with each of their clients individually.

Attributing further to these problems is the absence of a uniform court reporting system in each county – one that would enable individuals to search in one place and quickly locate all legal documents pertaining to their case – instead each county maintains its own index for civil and criminal cases while processes for searching property/probate records vary widely; necessitating comprehensive searches be conducted county by county; sometimes multiple searches per county in order to achieve optimal results.

Unification and accessibility must be the centerpiece of justice reform in South Carolina.

South Carolina provides searchable databases of unclaimed property records through its state treasurer’s office, which draws upon outside entities responsible for maintaining accurate and complete lists.

Assuming individuals could use name searches alone to ascertain if the state held money belonging to them, we discovered hundreds of individuals listed under attorneys or law firms with funds missing that couldn’t be located through name search alone.

Karen Ingram, communications director for the treasurer’s office explains, businesses submit funds in an industry-standard format that’s accepted across states. Once uploaded and processed efficiently.

Simply stated, whatever form you fill out will determine how it appears in the database. An automated system populates it accurately as provided; so for example if a law firm lists their attorney first then their rightful owner in column two then searches will only show up when searching the firm name itself. Sometimes reporting businesses provide information as belonging to multiple owners without providing names as searches cannot find all these individuals.

South Carolina’s unclaimed property database does not provide exact amounts for each item in their list; rather, they categorize amounts as either being under or above $100 as a reference point. Do not be fooled by this number however as considering every claim to be only $100 would be grossly underestimated; claims over $100 could range anywhere from $101 up to millions Using this guideline helps individuals decide if any particular claim would be worthwhile pursuing.

An accurate representation can be gained from state figures from 2021-2022 when $41.2 million representing 63,136 properties was distributed among their rightful owners – this meant the average property in that scenario was worth around $652.

Ingram reported that his office paid out its largest claim ever: an estate totaling more than $1.3 million. Claims with larger payments typically receive special attention from treasurers who attempt to locate beneficiaries for them.

FITSNews has compiled a spreadsheet containing our findings – hundreds of individuals whose unclaimed properties cannot easily be searched by name. Please note this data was extracted from state databases at the beginning of August; therefore this sample does not reflect changes made or new entries listed since then.

As much as we strive to maintain accurate information here, mistakes may arise and claimants must use their state website in order to submit a claim.

As with litigation, several steps must be taken in order to effectively review this list of recipients and attorneys/firm names/firm names.

Once an unclaimed property listing is located, making a claim can be done with just one click of a button.

Loftis noted that the claims process does not attempt to locate unpaid parking tickets or property taxes on properties; rather its focus lies in returning money to its rightful owners. She assumed taxes had already been paid on these properties prior to initiating this claims process.

Claimants will be asked to complete and return a simple form that provides information that verifies their claim, then submitted back for processing by the Treasurer’s Office. It should take no time at all for their processing to take place.

Process times vary based on the complexity and thoroughness of claim documentation provided,” Ingram noted, adding “but in many instances can be completed within weeks depending on overall claim volume.

Individuals with unresolved cases or questions should reach out to their attorney or law firm via telephone or email to request an update on the matter, providing an opportunity to avoid listing as unclaimed property by updating contact details.

Callie Lyons is an investigative journalist, researcher and author whose investigative work can be seen worldwide – most recently appearing in Parisian newspaper Le Monde and German documentary ProSieben. Additionally, Callie appears in Citizen Sleuth 2023 documentary exploring true crime genre.