Treasurer returns proceeds held by company for 18 years
When Jackie Godwin’s husband Roy Rose died of a sudden stroke in December 1998, her world turned into a ball of grief and complicated family matters.
She thought little of a life insurance policy Roy had passingly mentioned, and he had left no directions behind. She was left with the hard task of raising two daughters by herself as the proceeds remained with the insurance company.
Treasurer John Perdue’s office reunited Godwin with the missing funds Thursday afternoon, during a presentation at the Harrison County Courthouse, 18 years after her husband’s death. The Treasurer presented a $70,774 unclaimed property check to Godwin, as members of the media, her two adult daughters and local dignitaries gathered.
The company reported the funds as unclaimed property to the Treasurer’s Office in April 2016.
“No one ever contacted me, no,” said Godwin, 52, of Parsons in Tucker County. “I never spoke to anyone from that insurance company. I was kind of angered. Actually, angered is putting it lightly. I could have used that years ago raising those kids (one with Rose and one from a previous relationship). Then I wouldn’t have had to work three or four jobs at a time.”
In 2012, Treasurer Perdue’s office sued dozens of insurance companies in circuit court. The Treasurer’s lawsuit claimed life insurance companies should turn over proceeds upon death of the insured, using Social Security’s Death Master File (DMF) to identify deceased policyholders. Many insurance companies already used the DMF to identify the deceased and cut off annuity payments.
The Treasurer argued that many beneficiaries don’t know a policy exists, or, like Godwin, don’t have adequate details. The fight eventually made its way to the State Supreme Court, which, in 2015, remanded the cases back to circuit court for re-evaluation using the Death Master File as a guideline. Subsequent state legislation codified many of the guidelines; however, litigation continues with some of the companies.
“To be able to stand here today and present this check to Mrs. Godwin is one of the highlights of my tenure as State Treasurer,” said Perdue. “We have fought hard on this issue to protect beneficiaries who have every right to their life insurance payments.”
Unclaimed property is any asset from which an individual has become unintentionally separated. Examples are a final paycheck, a utility deposit, or stock accounts showing no sign of engagement or activity. Real estate is not unclaimed property.
Under state law, companies and entities are expected to report unclaimed assets to the Treasurer’s Office after a certain dormancy period, to allow the office to begin finding rightful owners. One of those ways is a twice-a-year listing of never-before-published names, inserted into the largest newspaper in each county. A friend of Godwin’s saw her name and contacted her.
“I contacted the Treasurer’s Office and they sent me a claim form,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure so I drove to Charleston. The people at the Treasurer’s Office were so sweet, so nice and so very helpful.”
Members of the Treasurer’s Unclaimed Property Division staff verified the amount, once all the necessary paperwork had been completed. To say Godwin was surprised is an understatement.
“When they told me the amount I darn near hit the floor,” Godwin said. “I dropped all that paperwork I was holding. It was embarrassing. Then I started crying.”
Godwin said she has plans for the money. She intends to split it three ways with her two daughters.
“I have pressing needs,” she said. “I live in a 1964 or 1965 trailer. It’s coming out of here. One daughter needs a well drilled and another needs a new roof on her house.”
She said she thought of her late husband that day in the Unclaimed Property office. “I thought to myself ‘Here he is dead and he’s still taking care of me and the kids.’“
Life insurance companies are responding to court decisions and legislation requiring them to report proceeds.
As of June 13, 2017, the Treasury’s Unclaimed Property Division had received $16.4 million in life insurance proceeds due to beneficiaries since 2012.
Contrast that with life insurance reported through 2012, prior to circuit court litigation: $3.8 million total. In 2012 alone, insurance companies reported $1.3 million, or about one-third of all life insurance reported to that point. Before 2012, only $2.5 million had been reported, which is more than five times less than the current figure.
As of September 2017, 30 states had passed unclaimed life insurance benefits legislation. More state legislators will likely continue to push for changes to either state unclaimed property laws or insurance codes, in the continued effort to require use of the Death Master File and to seek and locate beneficiaries.
For more information on West Virginia’s unclaimed property program, call 1-800-642-8687 or go to www.wvtreasury.com.