This story was written by Zahara Zahav, Independent Florida Alligator
When lifelong Gainesville residents Garland and Kate Robinson heard in April that Florida owed them money, Kate Robinson said she figured it would be a little less than $1,000.
After Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink handed Garland Robinson a pink check for almost $160,000 Tuesday afternoon, the Robinsons said they were a little more than surprised.
The money came from what is called an unclaimed property account, which can be either money or the contents of a safety deposit box that Florida residents have forgotten to claim. Unclaimed property includes forgotten refunds, stocks or dividends, uncashed checks, or deposits to an electric or utility company.
Companies are required to try contacting owners of unclaimed property, but if the owners have moved or died, that money is given to the state to hold until claimed.
Walter Graham, the chief of the Florida Bureau of Unclaimed Property, said the state tries to let owners know about their property with a letter, but it is impossible to contact everyone.
There is all this money just waiting for people to find, Graham said. Its their money, and most people have no idea its there.
In Alachua County alone, there is about $9.2 million in unclaimed property.
In Garland Robinsons case, his money came from a start up company he had invested in about 20 years ago.
He was notified in late April by a letter from the bureau.
But for most Florida residents, unless they check the bureaus Web site at www.fltreasurehunt.org or call 1 88 VALUABLE, they might never hear about their unclaimed property.
There is $1.5 billion in unclaimed property in Florida, according to data from the bureau.
That money comes from about eight million accounts that belong to people living in Florida.
Graham said the majority of unclaimed property belonged to people who died and therefore couldnt be contacted to receive the money.
Graham said he suggests searching the Web site first for deceased relatives and also checking for any names people might have used in the past.
Every year, we have at least one person who claims about $1 million, he said. Its the best public service the state of Florida offers.
Sink said her husband, a UF alumnus, checked the Web site and found a $65 deposit he had put down on an apartment in college.
Graham said 94 percent of the claims amount to less than $500.
Some people choose to leave their money to the state if it is a very small amount, he said. All unclaimed money is used to help fund public education.
The Robinsons said they arent sure how theyll use their newfound money.
Well probably just put it back in the bank, Kate Robinson said.