Funds held in your IOLTA account are deemed abandoned if the owner has not accepted payment of the funds, corresponded in writing about the funds, or otherwise indicated interest in the funds within two years after the funds are payable or distributable to the owner. See ORS 98.332.
June is the time to identify abandoned funds
The normal cycle for assessing, reporting, and remitting abandoned funds occurs annually in June and October. Go through your records now to determine if you are potentially holding unclaimed funds. As noted in The Ethics of Unclaimed Lawyer Trust Account Funds: Mystery Money, “Disputed funds are not abandoned funds. Instead, lawyers are obligated to maintain the disputed funds in trust until the dispute is resolved.” Oregon RPC 1.15-1(e).
October is the time to remit and report abandoned funds
Funds that are unclaimed as of June 30 of each year are reported and remitted during the month of October. The Department of State Lands receives the original paperwork. The Oregon State Bar receives the funds and a copy of the reports. This assumes the owner’s last known address is in Oregon, or a state with whom we have a reciprocal arrangement. Reporting forms may be found here.
Steps to take now
- Make a reasonably diligent effort to locate the person entitled to the funds.
- Google the person and his/her contact information.
- If you subscribe to a people search service such as Accurint, use it to locate a current address.
- If you have an investigator on retainer, ask him/her to run a skip trace. Hiring an investigator is probably not necessary, although the scope of making “a reasonably diligent effort” is not defined.
Use your common sense. If a large sum of money is involved, an investigator may be warranted.
- Attempt to communicate by writing to the last known address and calling the last known telephone number. Explain the consequences if the person fails to respond.
- If letters, emails or texts are returned undelivered, retain proof. Document attempts to call the person.
- If you have emergency contacts for the person, reach out to them. If your contact efforts are unproductive or the emergency contacts have also gone missing, keep a record of your efforts.
Even if you have tried these steps in the past, “… Make a last attempt to communicate with the owner of the funds before reporting them as abandoned.”
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