Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis is trying to get the word out about hundreds of thousands of dollars in unclaimed funds that could still be claimed by the interested parties involved in those cases or the heirs to those individuals estates.
Derived from older judicial matters adjudicated before the Probate Court, these unclaimed funds — in most cases — stem from estates left by deceased persons whose heirs or next of kin couldn’t be located during the legal process.
“If someone died leaving property to be distributed to their heirs, and those heirs, for whatever reason, can’t be located, we hold those monies for them at the conclusion of the estate administration,” Davis told Lagniappe. “We hold them for five years, and if they’re not claimed within that five-year period, we remit those monies to the county.”
While the court makes efforts to notify interested parties while cases are still active, that can sometimes be a near impossible task. However, Davis said his office has historically tried to publish a record of those funds and the individuals the court believes have a legal claim to them.
At the closing of each fiscal year, probate staff members tally up any unclaimed funds associated with cases that have been inactive for a period of at least five years before remitting monies associated with those cases to the Mobile County Commission.
This year, unclaimed monies from 37 cases dating back to the late ‘90s will be turned over, adding up to more than $142,212. At least a couple of the individual cases on this year’s list have unclaimed interests worth tens of thousands of dollars.
For context, in 2016, the probate court turned over $65,497 in unclaimed funds, which was a significant decrease from the $254,159 remitted to the county in 2015. In general, Davis said the level of unclaimed funds remitted annually through his office has dropped off over time.
“That’s a good amount of money, but when I first came on board here 17 years ago, it was much, much higher,” Davis said. “Back then, the judge of probate in each Alabama county had a more prominent role regarding any unclaimed funds. It was the discretion of the judge what you did with that information, but in Mobile County, we would always publish them and give notice that these funds were still available.”
However, even after unclaimed funds are turned over to the county, interested parties or their heirs can still claim monies they’re rightfully owed, as Alabama law requires county officials to hold those same funds for an additional 10 years after they’re received.
After that, though, funds that remain unclaimed are moved into the county’s general fund account, and while there’s been at least one case where the county paid out a claim made after that 10-year period, Public Affairs Director Kathy Eddy said it is quite uncommon.
Each year, around the same time probate court officials remit their unclaimed funds, the county moves funds held for the required 10 years into its general fund. According to Treasurer Phil Benson’s office, $163,224 was moved to the general fund at the close of the fiscal year 2017.
Anyone who thinks they might have a claim to these funds should contact Jacqueline Renee Clarke, the comptroller for the Mobile County Probate Court. Clarke can be reached by phone at (251) 574-6101 or via email at [email protected]
Davis said the probate court would be publishing the list of unclaimed funds and the interested parties associated with those cases at probate.mobilecountyal.gov. That information, as well as similar lists released in 2015 and 2016, can also be viewed below.