If you’re going to lose track of your money, don’t do it in Canada. In the U.S. a national database (www.missingmoney.com) lists forgotten cash and almost every state has an unclaimed property office—but in Canada we have a government policy that’s best summed up as “you snooze, you lose.”
Quebec and B.C. are the only two provinces with comprehensive unclaimed property laws. In B.C. you can find estate money, bankruptcy payouts, unpaid wages and real estate deposits at the B.C. Unclaimed Property Society (www.bcunclaimedproperty.bc.ca). In Quebec, Revenu Québec runs a similar service that even includes money found on dead bodies and vehicles abandoned on the highway (www.revenu.gouv.qc.ca/eng/particulier/bnr).
Governments in other provinces do little to help people find their property. When insurance companies and pension plans end up with unclaimed money, they sometimes give it to the courts, sometimes to the public trustee. If it’s insurance money, sometimes they keep it.
Oddly enough, Ontario has had the perfect solution to this problem on the books for 18 years. The Unclaimed intangible Property act was introduced by the David Peterson government of the late 1980s. It was intended to clarify what should be done with unclaimed property in the province and make it easier for people to find lost money. But the act never came into force.
Why not? Ontario’s Ministry of the attorney general’s office would only say that no government has seen fit to proclaim the act as law. Perhaps that’s because the government is pretty happy with the way things are right now. After all, with no laws saying otherwise, millions of dollars in unclaimed money end up in government pockets every year.