Woman holds $18,600 cashier's check for decades, finds out it's invalid: Money Matters

Woman holds $18,600 cashier's check for decades, finds out it's invalid: Money Matters

Q: I have a cashier’s check that I got in 1987. It’s for $18,600. My father got it from his bank account to keep my brother, who was on drugs, from getting the money. (In order to get my brother out of my dad’s home, my dad had to sell the property. It was terrible what he did to my dad.)

Each time the bank changed names, I called the bank, and they said my cashier’s check was as good as cash and it was OK. In 2005, I went to what was now Wells Fargo bank and was told it was “stale.” I had no idea what they were talking about. I called the state’s unclaimed funds office; they said it was never turned over to them.

I have been trying to get my money all this time. I was sent a letter last month from Wells Fargo. The letter said if I had any problems to inform them. I did and today the bank called me to say they will not honor it and for me to call the state, which I’ve done many times. It’s not at unclaimed money.

Can you advise me on any of this? I don’t know where else to turn.

C.C., city withheld

A: When someone gets a cashier’s check, the money is withdrawn from the account and held in an internal account controlled by the bank. When someone pays someone else with a cashier’s check, it’s not like a personal check that can bounce. It is as good as cash.

But not for three decades.

You said you’ve been told the bank believed the original account owner was dead and the check may have been altered.

That doesn’t appear to be the issue here.

“In cases where a payee of a cashier’s check may be in possession of an original cashier’s check, it is important to note that, if the check has not been presented for payment, the issuing bank is required to transfer the funds underlying the check to the state associated with the last known address of the owner of the instrument under that state’s unclaimed property law,” said Wells Fargo spokeswoman Heather Meyer.

The length of time before a bank must turn the funds over to the state as unclaimed property is determined by each state, Meyer said. Most states set the timeframe as three to five years.

The process of transferring funds to a state as unclaimed property is called “escheating.”

“If the bank does not know the address of the owner, the bank will escheat the funds associated with the cashier’s check to the state in which the bank was established,” Meyer said. “Upon escheat, the issuing bank is no longer in possession of the funds.”

Shannon Mortland, spokeswoman for PNC, which had no connection to any of this, concurred. “The proceeds of official checks are subject to state escheatment laws,” she said. “Once the proceeds of check is escheated, the customer must request funds from the state.”

Third Federal Savings spokeswoman Jennifer Rosa said Ohio considers a cashier’s check dormant after five years. That’s when banks in Ohio would turn the money over to the state.

“We would reach out to the customer by mail to notify the customer prior to the funds being turned over,” said Rosa. “It’s important for customers to check their accounts and balances and keep their contact information up-to-date with their bank.”

There probably aren’t too many people more paranoid than I am on the possibility of an account being compromised. (On the other hand, my mom might be more paranoid.) But I can’t for the life of me imagine keeping money as a cashier’s check for years and years and years instead of depositing it in a bank to protect it from a rogue relative. Like my hairdresser, April, said, what if you had a fire in your home? Heck, I’d convert it to cash and keep it in my freezer before I’d keep a single piece of paper worth $18,000 for 32 years.

If you were worried about your brother, you could have opened up a new account at a new bank that your brother had no knowledge of.

Banks have regulations and all sorts of requirements to protect customers’ money. “We have strong processes and procedures to verify identity and protect our customer’s accounts,” said Mortland at PNC. “Only titled account owners, or other persons with specific legal authority (for example, under a Power of Attorney document) are permitted access to the funds within that account.”

At Third Federal, “We follow ‘know your customer’ guidelines and require identification to verify account holders at the point of transaction in our branches,” Rosa said. “The simplest thing a customer can do, to make sure no one else is accessing the account, is make sure others are not named on the account.

“We can’t stress enough that customers should check their accounts and balances regularly, whether it’s online, through your printed statement, or in person at your local branch,” Rosa added. “If there are discrepancies, we can work through them with the customer.”

I know you said you kept the cashier’s check after your dad died and didn’t want to cash it in case you needed money somewhere down the line. “I continued to ask the finance manager if I should cash it and he said it was as good as cash,” you told me. “I have no experience with money like that so I listened to the person in charge of money being the finance person at the bank who was just as shocked when he found out it was not going to be honored.”

I also know that you said you have the withdrawal slip from the day the cashier’s check was issued. And of course you have the original cashier’s check. That might help you lay claim to the money once you figure out where it is.

“To determine if a cashier’s check has been escheated to a state as unclaimed property, as required by law, we recommend that you check the unclaimed website of every state in which you have lived,” said Meyer of Wells Fargo. “Each state maintains an unclaimed property site that provides the capability to conduct online searches.”

To search for unclaimed funds in your name in Ohio, go to Click on claimants in the top navigation.

The Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees unclaimed funds in Ohio, said there is no deadline to claim money. “The funds are held until the rightful owner or his or her heir claims them,” the state says.