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Dormant Cash Sleeps Soundly in Canada

Bank of Canada watches over unclaimed $$

BIRDIE LEVICK, are you out there?

If you are, there's $66,000 [Canadian; US $51,051] waiting for you at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa. Levick, of Webster, New York, is the American with the largest unclaimed bank balance in Canada.

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There are 1.3 million dormant bank accounts on record at the central bank's headquarters, all waiting to be claimed by their owners. Many of them are from outside the country.

There's a Dutchman who left $75,464 in a bank account. And a British couple - Walter and Evelyn Teague of London - left behind $52,537 at a branch in Windsor, Ontario.

Those are three of the big losers in the Bank of Canada dormant funds sweepstakes, $117 million in abandoned bank accounts waiting to be claimed by the owners or their heirs.

The central bank holds dormant accounts of under $100 for 10 years. But it hangs on to those with more than $100 forever, paying interest at 1.5 percent.

"The biggest claim last year was for $158,000, paid to a George Kirkham of Toronto," says Fernand Payer, a payment officer at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa. That left the largest unclaimed account belonging to Berend Koers, with an address in the Netherlands. He left his $75,464 in Bank of Montreal account in St. Thomas, Ontario, an area populated by Dutch immigrants who have made it big in dairy and chicken farming. But there are few people outside Canada who come forward to claim their wealth.

"We paid 90 accounts to residents outside Canada so far this year," says Mr. Payer. "There were only three over $1,000 and the largest was $1,715 paid to someone in Venezuela."

The average was just $143.

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There are a couple dozen accounts worth more than $30,000 waiting to be claimed. Some have been there since the bank started holding the accounts in 1944. And it is not just individuals; companies, charities, and other organizations have forgotten funds. The Sierra Club of Winnipeg has $650 in an account that has not been used since 1983; the Italian consulate in Montreal has forgotten about $343.

Every year Canadian banks turn over dormant accounts to the Bank of Canada. Last year it added 85,000 dormant accounts, worth $14 million. But only 3,000 accounts were claimed.

This does not happen throughout the United States, where every state makes its own rules. In Canada, banking is a federal responsibility. "The state law determines how long the account may be dormant," says a spokesperson for the Federal Reserve in Washington. "Unclaimed funds are returned to the state."

Seizing dormant bank accounts is said to earn $1.5 billion a year for state governments.

The Bank of Canada says it isn't a problem holding the money; it has two people who work pretty well full time replying to requests and doing searches. The bank says it is anxious to give the money back to its owners, but it does not look for them.

"We make it easy. There is no charge for a search and any payment from the Bank of Canada is processed without charge," says Payer. "But we don't actively seek people out. The Bank of Canada views itself as a custodian of these accounts."

The procedure once you know you have money in a dormant account is to go back to the original branch, get proper documents and then proceed to the Bank of Canada. But don't delay. Cash-starved governments, especially the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta, have their eyes on this pile and may move to seize dormant accounts.

Ontario passsed legislation, called the Unclaimed Intangible Property Act in 1989 but has not declared it law yet. In addition to dormant bank accounts, the law would also allow the government to collect unclaimed dividends and other funds people have forgotten.

Walter and Evelyn Teague: Call Ottawa soon!

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