As of 2022, state, federal and local governments in the United States hold an estimated $200 billion in escheated assets. At least 10% of this property is owed to foreign investors and heirs who live across Europe, South America, and Asia. Mr. Palmer was first interviewed by The Daily Telegraph back in 2009 for the April 3rd article British celebrities’ assets seized under draconian California law. As shown in the excerpt below, he highlighted how this warped system was harming millions of citizens (and even well-known celebrities) in the UK:
The State of California has used a draconian law to seize millions of pounds worth of assets belonging to Britons including some of the biggest names in show business. Celebrities including Kate Winslett, Dame Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Sir Michael Caine and the Irish actor Colin Farrell have all fallen victim to legislation that allows California’s state government to take possession of bank accounts, stocks and the contents of security deposit boxes if they are dormant for longer than three years.
Bill Palmer, an American lawyer leading a class-action lawsuit against California – which has major financial problems – is representing six million people from around the world who have allegedly had money or stocks seized under the Unclaimed Property Law. Mr Palmer said: “Our state took the property belonging to nine million people, liquidated it without any notice to them and put it in our general fund. These people today are walking around the streets of London, San Francisco, LA, Tokyo thinking they have a retirement fund, they have the stock certificate in their hand, that fund has been liquidated.”
Most of the assets turned over to the state go unclaimed, and in 2007, representatives told a court that California’s coffers were swollen to the tune of $400 million (£276 million) a year from the sale of its citizens’ personal property.
The Californian Controller’s Office explained, “even though unclaimed property can be used by the Legislature for funding purposes, anytime a rightful owner makes a claim, he/she is paid. The purpose of the program, which began in 1959 and is in effect in every State in the nation, is to safeguard private property from being lost during mergers or bankruptcies, drawn down by service or storage fees, or simply used by private interests for personal gain – either through an unwillingness to find the owner or just plain greed.In the 13 years since the article, little has improved. In fact, despite harsh reprimands and court-ordered changes intended to rehabilitate the state systems, the issue has only worsened. US states have significantly increased their enforcement efforts to seize property from corporations and financial institutions.