MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The Alabama State Treasurer's office is holding --well -- treasure that might be yours.
Banks and other financial institutions turn over millions of dollars in unclaimed assets to the treasurer's office every year.
Now, they want you to claim it.
"It comes from abandoned safe deposit boxes, abandoned bank accounts, all kind of different things, insurance proceeds that for whatever reason remain unclaimed," said Alabama State Treasurer John McMillan And, it's not just cash, the bank boxes contain, photos, silver, coins, deeds, maps and more.
Alabama began its unclaimed property program in 1971 and the Treasury Department began maintaining in 1996.
The staff at the state's Unclaimed Property Division go through every box, every piece of paper.
"They are shipped annually, and for us we don't really know what's in there 'til we get 'em open,' said Natalie Rudolph, who works in the Unclaimed Property Division.
Here's something to think about: $99 million. That's how much is currently unclaimed by North Alabama residents in the surrounding counties.
The counties include:
- Colbert - $5.3 million
- DeKalb - $2.7 million
- Franklin - $2.3 million
- Jackson - $4.4 million
- Lauderdale - $8.8 million
- Lawrence - $1.6 million
- Limestone - $6.8 million
- Madison - $44.9 million
- Marshall - $7.6 million
- Morgan, $14.7 million
"The unclaimed property section is one of the most interesting things probably is the most interesting thing to the average person that we do here," Treasurer McMillan said. "We get pistols, we get all kind of jewelry and watches, we`ve gotten $40-$50,000 diamond rings and all kind of things.
"And we keep 'em about three years, do everything we can to track down the owner, and if we can't find 'em, we have a contract with a company in Texas, that auctions those online."
The Unclaimed Property Division currently has $937 million in unclaimed cash and that number is likely to grow.
Chad Wright is the director of the Unclaimed Property Division.
Wright and his staff take their duties seriously, recognizing both the valuables and the history they're entrusted with as they open and process the contents of hundreds of boxes every year.
"We have no idea. It's like Christmas for us, when a box comes in, they open it, it might be silver, it might be military medals, it might be jewelry, it might be coins or cash, it might, it might be nothing," Wright said. "It might be something that we would consider something of no value, but we go through it and open and touch every single piece that comes through to us."
"In the past five years, the office has paid out to North Alabama residents more than $15 million, through about 10,000 claims. The proceeds can include stock shares, uncashed payroll checks and items someone, somewhere was holding onto.
"It is actually a great feeling, because we would rather return that property," Natalie Rudolph said, "from a safe deposit box standpoint then have it auctioned and only be able to you back a check to say 'This is what it sold for, this is what it was worth.' For them on their side, it's worth more, because it's sentimental.
"And we understand that."
The claim process is simple.
"Just go to treasury.Alabama.Gov, see if your name or a family member or a friend is on that list, and contact us," McMillan said.
Not all treasure weighs the same.
"We've paid out claims that are over a $1 million, and that's of course, we get excited about that," Wright said. "But then sometimes you contact someone and they'll tell you it's a $5,000 claim or even a $500 claim, and we'll have 'em crying on the phone. 'Hey you have no idea, how much this means to me, you know we were short on rent this month, we got a house payment, we've had medical issues.'
"And so those are success stories as well. And they don't always just have to be the high dollar things."
Whether a silver set passed through seven generations, or a medal for rescuing a fellow solider in the Pacific, the world and it's treasures pass through their doors.
McMillan stressed that anyone who believes or finds they have unclaimed property does not need a third-party, a lawyer or a paid broker, to claim that property. He said you can deal with his office directly.
"There's a lot of it, and it's right here in this vault and we would love to get 'em to access it and take it off our hands," the State Treasurer said.