State Treasurer Combats Legislation That Could Cost Oklahomans Billions


Friday, April 15th 2016, 7:00 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck


The State Treasurers office is holding on to some treasure, about $600 million worth that belongs to Oklahomans, while at the same time trying to keep insurance companies from taking money that should be paid out to the families of those who have died.

Deep inside an old vault in the capitol are hidden treasures. 

“More people than you would think lose track of valuable things,” said State Treasurer Ken Miller. “We’re holding almost $600 million from 900,000 people.”

Some of the unclaimed property comes from safe deposit boxes that have long been forgotten about. Everything from old coins and baseball cards to a nearly 500-year-old painting valued at more than $41,000 just waiting to be claimed. 

“We've had bars of gold and silver,” Miller said. “We had one person come in and he had over a million dollars’ worth of ‘stick’ that his father had, that he did not know about, and $450,000 in another. So it’s a lot of money.”

Miller says his office has returned almost $40-million to its rightful owners in the past year. That’s the positive side of the state’s unclaimed property fund. But there’s a dark side. An attempt by nation's biggest life insurance companies to avoid paying benefits on millions of unclaimed policies nationwide, even when the companies know the policyholder has died. 

“It’s tragic really what they’re trying to do,” Miller said. “I’ve termed it shameful. I think it is.”

Here’s how it works. Often, when someone dies, loved ones don’t know about life insurance policies, and unless there’s a claim, the insurance companies don’t have to pay. They’re supposed to report unclaimed funds to the state though. 

But instead, Miller says, in Oklahoma and other states insurance companies are pushing for legislation to use the social security death master file to check for beneficiaries. But here’s the key: It’s only from the time the law is signed on. 

“That’s code for ‘We don’t want to cover any that are already in force or any policies that already exist.’” Miller explained. “That won’t affect them for decades.  And we’re talking about billions with a ‘B’, billions of dollars nationwide of unclaimed life insurance benefits.” 

“Not only are they trying to keep the money from families who have lost a loved one and who have paid these benefits and are due these benefits. But they are also trying to trick legislators into thinking that they are voting for something good for their constituents when they are doing just the opposite,” He added.

60 Minutes will be airing a deeper investigation into insurance companies that includes interviews with Treasurer Miller. The piece airs at 6 p.m. Sunday on News 9.

If you believe you may have lost fortune at the treasurer’s office, you can check out their website at https://apps.ok.gov/unclaimed/