South Carolinians who are owed money as the result of legal settlements or insurance claims that have yet to be fulfilled have not received their payments, though checks were sent directly to them. Unbeknownst to these citizens, their compensation can still be claimed through South Carolina’s Unclaimed Property Program.
Curtis Loftis’ Office of State Treasurer oversees an unclaimed property program holding onto over $850 million in unclaimed property, which one out of every seven South Carolinians can potentially collect – whether lost money or assets held by the state as safekeeping measures. Last fiscal year alone, this program returned $41.2 million back to their rightful owners according to Treasurer Curtis Loftis’ Accountability Report.
Loftis enjoys returning unclaimed property to its rightful owners as one of his favorite aspects of his work. “Better odds than playing the lottery – and it’s free.”
He refers to it as playing Santa Claus.
Loftis’ office is responsible for overseeing Unclaimed South Carolina – a program which oversees unclaimed properties belonging to individuals with past or current South Carolina addresses who may have forgotten utility deposits or bank account balances, uncashed checks, shares dividends settlement payouts estate payouts or insurance claims that remain unclaimed despite diligent search efforts.
What’s interesting? Many notable individuals such as George and Barbara Bush, Henry McMaster, Jimmy Carter, and Nikki Haley all have unclaimed property listed in the database.
Loftis noted that many are taken aback when they discover unclaimed property owned by them is being held by the state, so he encourages individuals to search the database not just for themselves but also friends, family members, neighbors, churches or organizations they may know of who may have unclaimed assets in storage.
“The money is there, we just need people to come forward and claim it,” Loftis stated.
Undoubtedly, something must be wrong or the funds would not have gone astray. Simple mistakes such as misspelled names and incorrect addresses often contribute to these misplaced funds. Each month the state receives unclaimed property which it adds to their database; however, in November and December especially large volumes come pouring in.
Loftis advises evaluating their database at least twice annually…
FITSNews’ investigation uncovered by FITSNews has uncovered an astonishingly high proportion of unclaimed funds in California’s database related to litigation cases – meaning the same system that enabled disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh to steal millions from his clients for over 10 years – such as lost money South Carolina – is also keeping millions in unclaimed settlements from reaching their rightful beneficiaries despite payments already having been made; some may never reach bank accounts as promised.
Unclaimed properties arise from various sources. First, utility deposits often go unclaimed when people move away without notifying anyone they owed money – either because they forget a forwarding address was required or simply leave without leaving one at all. Second, court cases such as personal injury lawsuits, negotiated settlements and probate court proceedings remain obscure putting people without legal degrees at an enormous disadvantage. Thirdly, state treasuries such as Unclaimed South Carolina hold billions in unclaimed funds from various sources such as bank accounts, insurance policies stocks bonds etc. that remain unclaimed from various sources – leaving people behind to claim them back!
Whoever has read our coverage of Murdaugh knows the family members of those he had fleeced were unaware their case had been settled; loans were made from trust funds belonging to other victims without their knowledge; yet more victims only received partial funds due. Compounding matters further was that Murdaugh’s former firm only discovered its problem over 10 years later when clients claimed several million dollars they believed was recovered for claims but ultimately stolen by Murdaugh himself.
Myths and Mysteries… Settling court cases often takes years – leaving attorneys and clients separated during that period. As a result, attorneys and clients can often lose touch during that period.
When settlements involve multiple parties, multiple checks may need to be issued as their attorneys’ fees and costs such as medical bills will likely need to be deducted before being cut out as client checks – this process being an inevitable part of life.
This issue is systemic. Dozens of law firms serving hundreds of clients are listed in the database, some with only one entry while others have many entries. Could this be evidence of loose bookkeeping practices or simply failure of communication between attorneys and clients during the transaction process? Perhaps; more likely though it indicates that communication was discontinued at some point during the process and never resumed even though money was involved.
Problems related to court reporting systems are compounded by their lack of uniformity statewide; without such a system, individuals could search one place to locate all legal documents pertaining to their case. As is currently the case, each county maintains separate indexes for civil and criminal cases while property and probate records differ considerably between counties – meaning a comprehensive search must be conducted one county at a time – often necessitating multiple searches per county for accurate results.
Unifying these databases and making all their records searchable must be central to justice reform in South Carolina.
Searchability… South Carolina maintains searchable databases, keeping its unclaimed property records at the State Treasurer’s website but using information provided from outside entities for accurate and complete records. Each organization responsible is held accountable for any discrepancies found on this list.
Individuals might assume a simple name search will suffice when trying to determine whether their money has been taken by the state, but this is often not the case. At Unclaimed South Carolina – which holds over $700 million of unclaimed property – we discovered hundreds of cases where missing funds had been listed with attorneys or law firms as legal representation, making them inaccessible via simple name searches alone.
“Businesses report funds to our office using an accepted format across states,” according to Karen Ingram, communications director for the treasurer’s office. This file is uploaded and processed systematically.
Databases contain inherent weaknesses. Accessible information can only be as complete and useful as that provided by reporting entities.
Located in South Carolina? If so, it could come as quite the shock to learn that unclaimed property exists for you to claim! Unclaimed South Carolina doesn’t give exact figures for every item on their list; rather, their database categorizes items as either falling under or over $100 as an estimate of value; don’t be misled by this low estimate: claims valued over $100 can range anywhere from $101-millions of dollars! The $100 reference point only serves to help individuals determine if pursuing claims is worthwhile in their individual circumstances.
One more realistic view can be drawn from the figures for 2021-2022 when $41.2 million, representing 63,136 properties was distributed among rightful owners at an average cost of $652 per property.
Ingram noted that the largest claim ever paid by his office was for an estate and totalled more than $1.3 million. Any larger claims are listed in their database but require extra efforts from him in finding their recipients.
FINDINGS… To assist your search, FITSNews is providing a spreadsheet containing our findings – hundreds of individuals with unclaimed property not easily searchable by name. Please be aware: this data represents just a sample taken from the state database at the start of August; thus it doesn’t reflect changes made or new entries listed since then.
While every effort has been taken to maintain the accuracy of this information, errors may still arise. To file a claim against their property owners in person, rightful owners will need to visit their state’s official site and follow its procedure for making claims.
Steps must be taken in order to properly review this list, when litigated matters are involved, including searching by recipient name, attorney in case, and law firm that employs that attorney.
Once an unclaimed property listing has been identified, filing a claim begins with just the click of a button.
Loftis noted that the claims process does not seek out unpaid parking tickets; rather it serves to return money to its rightful owners and assumes taxes have already been paid on these properties.
Claimants will be asked to complete and return a straightforward form, providing information that verifies their claim. From there, it should take no time at all for the treasurer’s office to process the claim.
“”Determinations depends on the complexity and thoroughness of claim documentation provided,” Ingram noted. “However, claims may often be processed within weeks based on overall volume.”
Individuals with unresolved cases or queries can reach out to their attorney or law firm by phone or email to request an update, particularly if settlement of their case has yet to occur and this would provide them with the chance to remove themselves from the unclaimed property list by updating contact information…
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be seen worldwide in media outlets, publications, documentaries, and documentaries – most recently Parisian newspaper Le Monde and ProSieben documentary series in Germany. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth 2023 documentary exploring true crime genre.