MILWAUKEE - Unclaimed property -- it’s almost like winning a sweepstakes you didn’t enter.
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue has a lot of money sitting in unclaimed property, waiting to be claimed. But, as a West Allis man recently found out, it doesn’t always pay to wait to file your claim.
Jerry Griesemer said he’s fallen on hard times.
"I have no cash flow to work with," Griesemer told Contact 6. "I have no money, so I rely on transit. I walk a lot."
Some expected money would solve a few of Griesemer’s problems, and at one point, he may have qualified for quite a bit.
In 2002, an ad for unclaimed property ran in a state newspaper. The name attached to $12,582 was Emma Griesemer. Emma Griesemer died in 1998 and is Jerry Griesemer’s mom.
Over the years, Jerry Griesemer said his friends alerted him to the money.
"I just brushed it off and brushed it off," said Griesemer.
When Griesemer finally tried to claim the money, he said he got disappointing news from the DOR.
"Oh, that’s expired," Griesemer said he was told.
Turns out, the DOR has a lot of money waiting to be claimed. A small portion of that money, about $5 million currently, in what’s called "escheated estates."
"Escheated estates are where someone passes away and their estate goes through probate and through the probate process they can’t find any heirs," said Erin Egan, director of DOR’s Bureau of Tax Operations.
Money from escheated estates is turned over to DOR, which holds it for ten years, advertises it, and tries to track down heirs. Then, the property lapses to the common school fund.
The DOR said this may be what happened to Emma Griesemer’s money. It appears Jerry Griesemer may have waited too long to file his claim.
"We don’t want to keep your property we would much rather give it back to people," said Egan.
The DOR jumped at the chance to speak with Contact 6 about unclaimed property. The department has another $617 million in unclaimed property being held indefinitely. Much of it comes from uncashed payroll checks, dormant savings accounts, and abandoned stocks or mutual funds.
"We pay out between $30 million and $35 million in a typical year," said Egan.
Go to the DOR’s website to find out if you qualify for any money in unclaimed property.
"Be sure to check for relatives, your spouse your kids, your parents, especially deceased relatives, because we have property in our system going back to 1970," said Egan.
While searching the DOR’s website for unclaimed property, Contact 6 reporter Jenna Sachs found out she has some money in unclaimed property. It was about $13, possibly a medical bill overpayment, and the DOR showed Sachs how to claim it. Filing the claim only took five minutes – and Sachs’ check arrived in the mail a couple weeks later.
If you’ve checked the DOR’s website for unclaimed property before, but haven’t lately, check again.
"We get stuff every single year," said Egan. "If you didn’t see your name last year we might have your property now."
When it comes to escheated estates, it doesn’t pay to wait.
"It was my last resort," said Griesemer.
To file a claim for unclaimed property, you’ll be asked for proof of identity, your social security number, and proof of address. If you don’t have all of those things, submit whatever information you do have, and it may be enough for the DOR to approve your claim.