On June 16, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the state’s unclaimed-property statute trumped contract terms and regulatory law, imposing affirmative duties on insurers. The implications of the decision could extend beyond the insurance industry to upset virtually any contract defining property rights, including shareholder buyout agreements and class action settlement agreements.

All 50 states have unclaimed-property reporting requirements. Pursuant to those laws, companies must remit abandoned or unclaimed intangible property to the state of the owner’s last-known address, or their own state of incorporation, if it is held for a specific period of time (usually between one and three years). For example, uncashed paychecks must be remitted to the appropriate state.

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