California Law on Inactive Accounts
Do You Have Any Old or Inactive Accounts?
Banks Cannot Just “Keep” Your Money
Do you have any old passbook savings, CDs or other old accounts you haven’t touched for years? Do not just throw them out. You may still be able to claim what’s yours. But act quickly if you discover an old account. Dormant bank accounts are still subject to fees, maintenance charges and any other penalties your bank may levy. Communicate with your bank right away and do not settle for the bank telling you that your account has simply been lost. Even if your account has been inactive for three years or more, your bank has certain legal responsibilities with respect to that account; it may be “unclaimed property” under California law and you may be able to track it down.
California law defines “unclaimed property” as any financial asset that has been left inactive by the owner for a period of time specified in the law, generally three (3) years. C.C.P. § 1513(a)(1)(A). The most common types of unclaimed property are:
- Bank accounts and safe deposit box contents
- Stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and dividends
- Uncashed cashier’s checks and money orders
- Certificates of deposit
- Matured or terminated insurance policies
- Mineral interests and royalty payments
- Trust funds and escrow accounts
An account can be deemed inactive if the depositor has not made any deposits or withdrawals, presented a passbook for crediting of interest, corresponded with the financial institution regarding the account, or “[o]therwise indicated an interest in the deposit” for a period of three years. C.C.P. § 1513(a)(1)(A). The law requires financial institutions to annually report and deliver property to the State Controller’s Office for inactive accounts after giving you notice that it intends to do so. C.C.P. § 1513.5. If you have moved and the bank does not have your new address, you may never receive that notice. Regardless, the financial institution cannot just “keep” inactive or dormant accounts but must turn them over (a process known as escheatment) to the State. If they have not done so, you may have claims against them for violation of unclaimed property laws.
If your unclaimed property escheats to the State, that is never permanent as long as the asset continues to have value. C.C.P. § 1501.5. The State wants property owners to claim their own property. The State posts all unclaimed property and if you find any property of yours listed as unclaimed property by the State, there are procedures available to you to reclaim it. The process is explained at https://sco.ca.gov/upd_msg.html.
You may need legal help tracking old accounts down and holding your bank responsible for what has become of your money. Our litigators can help. Ingrid M. Evans and the other California and San Francisco consumer attorneys can be reached at Evans Law Firm (415) 441-8669, or by email at <a href=”mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org”>email@example.com</a>. Our attorneys have experience with complex financial contracts and large insurance companies. We can help guide your case through a jury trial or toward an equitable settlement. We also handle cases involving physical and financial elder abuse, qui tam and whistleblower law, nursing home abuse, whole life insurance and universal life insurance, and indexed, variable, and fixed annuities.
 Our own Ingrid M. Evans spoke on NBC News just last summer about one such case and you can hear what she had to say here: https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/It-Disappeared-Bank-Tells-San-Jose-Widow-it-Doesnt-Have-Her-30000-CD-491564781.html.