These unclaimed bonds date back to the patriotic fundraising efforts of World War II. Sparked by a huge advertising campaign to buy bonds during WWII, most families bought at least one and held on to them -- the maturity date was 40 years. Many were never cashed in due to being either lost or the owner passing away.
The first Series E Bond was sold to President Franklin D. Roosevelt by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau on May 1, 1941. These were marketed first as "defense bonds", then later as "war bonds".
During World War II the "drive" technique used during World War I was replaced in part by a continual campaign using a payroll deduction plan. However, eight different drives were conducted during the campaign, in total raising $185.7 million from 85 million Americans, more than in any other country during the war.
It is estimated that there are over $16 million in bonds out there that were never cashed. The Treasury Department never set up an unclaimed money system for these war bonds, so there is a lot of money out there that the federal government got to hold on to.
The state attorneys general suing the Treasury Department want the money given to the states. These states have a legal system in place for finding the owners of unclaimed funds.
The complaint was first filed in Federal court in New Jersey in 2004 with New Jersey and North Carolina as the plaintiffs. Montana, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Missouri later joined the case. All states would benefit if the lawsuit is successful.
The Treasury Department, however, doesn't agree with the lawsuit. Apparently there is a Web site where people cam simply type in their Social Security number to see if they have one. In addition, the Treasury Department wants people to know the money is not laying around in a pot of gold.
Joyce Harris, with the Bureau of Public Debt stated that most of the unclaimed bonds are far more recent than the original World War II era bonds. And overall, 99 percent of people claim their bonds.
And those who don't cash them often choose to do so for tax reasons, or perhaps out of a sense of patriotism.
Arguments for the case will be made later this year. Attorneys for the federal government are arguing the states don't have standing on what they see as a contract issue between the original purchasers and the Treasury Department.
If you have a Series E war bond, you can head to the Treasury Department's Bureau of Public Debt website to find out more about your bond: www.unclaimedassets.com/US1.htm
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source: AP, Bureau of Public Debt, Wikipedia