The Scenario: Your company issues a final paycheck to an employee who is moving out of town and leaves only a forwarding address. A year later, the check still hasn’t been cashed despite several letters your company has sent offering to void the original and reissue the check.

You know that your bank won’t cash the check now and you would like to just void it in your records and return the money to your general account

The Reality: You can’t do that. Uncashed paychecks are a business liability that can be extinguished only when they are cashed. The fact that a check remains uncashed over a long period of time does not eliminate your company’s liability for the payment. Voiding or writing off the check and putting the money back into the general account understates your company’s wages.

In addition, uncashed checks carry property rights. After a specific interval of time that is determined by state laws, unclaimed checks become unclaimed property and are protected by state laws.

To ensure compliance, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants suggests these steps:

1. Void the check and move the funds into an escrow account that is subject to careful internal control.
2. Pay the applicable employment tax, Social Security tax, and Medicare withholding.
3. Subject all transactions in and out of the escrow account to close scrutiny and supervisory review.
4. Find and retain available data that identifies the property owner.
5. Try to contact the payee at regular intervals, such as every six months.

A company that does not comply with state unclaimed property laws runs the risk of an audit. Interest and penalties could be assessed for not filing unclaimed property reports.

States generally aren’t concerned about unclaimed property if your company has a continuing relationship with the owner or if the last known address in your records is the owner’s current address. States require holders of unclaimed property to attempt to contact the owner before reporting the property.

Each state, plus some U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions, have statutes that specify dormancy periods. Once the dormancy period has passed, your company generally must file annual reports to the states, and some states require reports even if your company has no new unclaimed property for the current year.

When it comes to which state gets the reports, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the holder must report the unclaimed property to the state in which the owner’s last known address was located (Texas vs. New Jersey, 1954). If the owner’s address is missing or incomplete, the top court ruled that the holder should report the asset to its state of incorporation (Delaware vs. New York, 1992).

If your company is planning a merger or an acquisition, it’s wise to perform due diligence of the other company’s operations to identify all reportable unclaimed property.

Unclaimed property is a sensitive issue that requires careful handling. If there is any doubt that you have met the burden of due diligence, consult with a professional expert.


As we’ve grown, so have our administrative and payroll needs. That’s why we’ve partnered with HR&P. HR&P supports us every day with human resources, payroll, benefits and compliance so we can focus on being the best BB’s Cafe we can be!

Brooks Bassler, Owner, BB's Cafe

Since 2010, my company has grown to over five hundred employees. With our tremendous growth we needed a human resources and payroll company that could grow with us. That company is HR&P. And as laws have changed, like the Affordable Care Act, HR&P has kept us in compliance. I focus on growing Twin Eagle. I trust HR&P with the rest.

Chuck Watson, Chairman, Twin Eagle

We are the industry leader in Oil Spill Cleanup Products and have dealt with numerous Oil Spill disasters. Knowing up close what a disaster looks like we choose to avoid them in our offices. HR&P guides us through the land mines of HR, Payroll and Benefit compliance so my team can focus solely on helping our clients with their problems, and we avoid our own.

Chad Clay, Owner, CEP Sorbents

One of the best things we did for our business was to partner with HR&P. They’re the experts in human resources, payroll and benefits administration.
HR&P’s web based solutions make it easy for us to manage our employee’s needs. They also help us stay compliant with the Affordable Care Act and with “the alphabet soup” of constantly changing Governmental regulations.

Ken Dennard, CEO, Dennard—Lascar Associates

I run a restaurant, from early in the morning to late at night, our team works hard to deliver great food in a fun atmosphere.
But there’s a lot more to running a business like human resources, payroll, benefits and compliance. So we turn to HR&P.
Outsourcing to HR&P keeps us focused on our business.

Marcus Payavla, Co-Owner, Orleans Seafood Kitchen



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Practical Tips

To avoid having state auditors estimate your company’s unclaimed property liability, adopt polices and procedures about how long to keep certain records. State unclaimed property laws generally require retention periods averaging 10 years.

  • Your company may need to use FASB Statement No. 5 to help account for unclaimed property liability on its financial statements. The FASB statement discloses a loss contingency that depends on whether the likelihood of the future event sparking the loss is probable, reasonably possible, or remote.

Quick Facts

Unclaimed property falls into two broad categories:

  • Securities-Related Property, which includes equity securities and related dividends, debt obligations and related interest, and dividend reinvestment accounts.
  • General Ledger Property, which typically includes uncashed payroll and vendor checks, customer credits, gift certificates, insurance policies, and financial accounts.

Dormancy varies according to the type of property but typically is:

  • One year for payroll.
  • Five years for most other property. However, depending on the type of property and the state in question, the legally prescribed dormancy periods may be three or seven years.