Sharon Finn of Cranston had always heard about the Rhode Island Treasury’s Unclaimed Property Division, but admits she never thought she would find money through it.
But after deciding to take a few minutes to check the system, she found almost $50,000 from a life insurance policy her late brother had.
Finn works in the call center for Metlife Insurance, and always fields calls from people who have found paperwork and are looking for their next step. Even though she helps people find claims for a living, she never thought to look for her brother’s life insurance policy when he lost his battle with cancer a few years ago.
But on a whim, she decided to check the missing money database. She typed in the names of a few family members, and something came up for her brother. All the website told her was the claim was over $100, and she needed to follow the prompts to find out more.
“It went so easy, I was surprised,” she said. “I thought it was going to be a lot of paperwork, and emailing back and forth.”
Finn simply answered a few questions, and a message was sent to the treasurer’s office.
“I got an email the next day,” she said.
All she needed was proof of who she was.
“Not even two weeks later, I had the check,” she said. “I’m sorry for the reason I got the money, but it’s like my brother is looking out for me.”
Finn has taken the money and put it aside for herself, as well as some for her three children and grandchildren.
“I do want to leave something for my two grandchildren and my children,” she said. “It gives me a sense of security to have that money in the bank.”
Last week, Finn joined General Treasurer Gina Raimondo to announce that of the $12 million in life insurance proceeds found for Rhode Islanders through a recent audit, $2.3 million has been returned to over 1,100 rightful owners. The Treasury still holds over $9.5 million belonging to roughly 8,000 Rhode Islanders, and is continuing to encourage people to take a few minutes to search the online missing money database.
In total, the Treasury holds over $275 million in unclaimed property.
“The average Rhode Island family is really struggling to make ends meet,” said Raimondo in a phone interview last week. “The whole point of this program is to get [this money] back to the people.”
Verus Financial found the $12 million from life insurance companies during a recent audit ordered by the treasurer. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have used Verus to audit life insurance companies in search of abandoned life insurance policies that belong to residents.
“The people of Rhode Island need that money more than the big insurance companies,” said Raimondo.
During the announcement at the Middletown Senior Center on March 5, a video sharing Finn’s story was shown, as well as videos depicting similar stories from Maureen King of Warwick and Lugarde Baris of Pawtucket. Collectively, the three women recovered $67,000 from life insurance policies through Unclaimed Property.
So how is it that so many Rhode Islanders have lost track of life insurance policies or other forms of unclaimed property? According to Raimondo, it is easier than it may first appear.
“You might not know. If someone dies suddenly and didn’t tell you that you are the beneficiary, you don’t know,” she said. “It happens more than you think.”
Raimondo said the insurance companies try to find beneficiaries but hold on to the claims when they cannot. The audit helped to reveal what was owed to Rhode Islanders.
While Finn recovered just under $50,000, and King and Baris each recovered about $10,000 stemming from life insurance policies, the average claim for all types of unclaimed property in 2013 was $1,037.
Raimondo explained that in addition to unclaimed life insurance policies, other types of unclaimed property include stock dividends, security deposits on apartments that were never collected, credit from former cell phone bills or even refunds from utility bills at former properties.
“I think a lot of this happens in transitions,” said Raimondo.
During her time in office, one of the treasurer’s goals was to overhaul the Unclaimed Property program to make it easier and quicker for Rhode Islanders to find and claim their property.
Rhode Islanders can search the database by name online at www.treasury.ri.gov/up.
“It takes a matter of five minutes of your time to make a phone call or check the website,” said Finn, adding that people can even go to the library and get assistance if they are not familiar with technology. “Worst case scenario, nothing’s there. Best case scenario, there’s money out there that belongs to you.”
Over the past year, Raimondo and members of her staff have been going out in the community to senior centers and farmers markets to talk about unclaimed property. They even bring laptops with them, and help people perform searches right on the spot.
“Almost every time, people say ‘No, it won’t be me,’ but someone always finds money,” said Raimondo.
Finn applauded the treasurer and her entire staff for the work they have done to make this process easy and fast.