An Unclaimed Property Lesson From (Old) Jersey

by admin

As you may know, the name of the great State of New Jersey (where Escheatable is based) comes from the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel.  The Isle is not part of the United Kingdom, but is rather a crown dependency.  In any event, Her Majesty’s Receiver General of the Isle of Jersey maintains a website that includes, among other things, a concise summary describing the historical development of, and differences between, escheat and bona vacantia.  As we’ve noted earlier, although the term escheat is now generally used in the context of referring to modern state unclaimed property laws, this is really a misnomer.   As Her Majesty’s Receiver General points out, escheat is a term that generally applies to real estate (i.e., land) while the separate doctrine of bona vacantia applies to “moveable” goods (i.e., things).

One stark contrast between escheat (actually, bona vacantia) in Jersey and the United States is that such laws in the U.K. and its crown dependencies actually give the Crown title (i.e., ownership) not just custody of the property.  Here, of course, U.S. states generally do not get to take ownership of unclaimed property – it is merely held in trust for the benefit of the rightful owner.