Thousands and thousands of dollars belonging to Jewish institutions and individuals are sitting unclaimed at the Bank of Canada.
Banks and federally chartered trust and loan companies are required to transfer to the Bank of Canada all unclaimed bank balances maintained in Canada in Canadian currency that have been inactive for a period of 10 years. According to the Bank of Canada’s website (bankofcanada.ca), at the end of December 2016, approximately 1.8 million unclaimed balances, worth some $678 million, were on the bank’s books. More than 93% of unclaimed balances were under $1,000, representing 26% of the total value outstanding. In 2016, the bank paid out $15 million to account holders. The oldest balance dates back to 1900.
At the Bank of Canada, there are many small amounts payable to Jewish organizations, including ones that are currently active. There are also some organizations that may no longer be active, which is why money in their name is languishing at the Bank of Canada. It is unfortunate that money intended to benefit Jewish organizations, charities or other causes, should not be used for the intended purpose, but instead sits unclaimed at the bank. Many of these organizations must have successor organizations or responsible persons that, with a little effort, could prove their right to claim the funds.
To discover whether a group you are now or have previously been associated with has such a balance, you should do the following:
- Go to bankofcanada.ca.
- Type “unclaimed balance” into the search box.
- Once you reach the unclaimed balances registry, type one word of the organization name into the search box and scroll through the results.
- If you see a name that is familiar, open the link.
If there is a bank account untouched for 10 years, the organization will pop up, along with the name and address of the originating bank. Then you can make a claim for the money through a process set out on the website. You will have to prove that the account was yours, and the website explains how to do that.
You can search by province, or by “all” (of Canada). Each year, on Dec. 31, the Bank of Canada adds another year’s unclaimed bank accounts to the website.
Members of the Canadian Jewish community should try to reclaim funds that were intended for use in the community.
Here are some of the words searched that found unclaimed balances belonging to Jewish groups or institutions: Jewish, Hebrew, tikvah, congregation, Canadian friends, beth, bnai, b’nai, rabbi, synagogue, temple, Torah, Talmud, Israel, Jerusalem, Moshe, Habonim, Zionist, ohel, Na’amat, chevra, camp, JCC, eitz, beit, chaim, kosher, yeshiva, Yiddish.
For example, the Bank of Canada holds $3,311.02 for an organization called Canadian Friends of Tikvah Lay in Ontario. It also holds $256.94 for Yeshiva of the Northwest, whose last transaction date was in 1992 in Vancouver, and $108.69 for the Edmonton Jewish Women’s Baseball League, untouched since 1997.
There may be some hurdles to jump to establish the right to the $953.08 of the Yiddish Drama Company in Toronto, untouched since 1979. However, there are at least a dozen Jewish community centres and congregations in towns across the country that should have very little difficulty in obtaining their unclaimed bank balances.
Few of the amounts found were large – but should any of the money raised or donated for a Jewish cause, charitable or not, be left at the Bank of Canada? Some effort should be made by the community to locate these funds and use them as they were intended.
You should also check your own name and those of family members, especially those family members who died more than 10 years ago, as there are sometimes bank accounts that heirs were unaware of at the time of death and that show up at the Bank of Canada years later. The process for obtaining personal unclaimed funds is also quite simple, and requires establishing your identity and your right to the funds.
Not to be confused with the funds held at the Bank of Canada, the province of British Columbia has its own, government-affiliated B.C. Unclaimed Property Society. It seems to hold more funds for individuals rather than organizations. Its website (unclaimedpropertybc.ca) says:
“Each year, millions of dollars in British Columbia goes unclaimed in dormant credit union accounts, forgotten insurance payments, unclaimed wages, overpayment to debt collectors, as well as unclaimed proceeds from courts, tax offices and unadministered estates and intestates (death without a will and next of kin cannot be notified). The British Columbia Unclaimed Property Society (BCUPS) helps reunite British Columbians with their forgotten or unclaimed assets. We hold unclaimed property as the custodian for rightful owners under the Unclaimed Property Act.”
The BCUPS website also provides an easy way to search, but if you find your name, you will find no further information about the amount of funds or the source of the funds being held for you, until you contact the society. You could think of it as a form of treasure hunt, where you expend no money, but you do expend your time, and maybe there will be a treasure chest or at least a few coins at the end of the hunt.
Felicia Folk is a retired lawyer living in Vancouver.