According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, state treasurers and other agencies currently hold nearly $33 billion in unclaimed property. The term “unclaimed property” can cover a variety of payments or accounts, such as vendor payments, AR credits and payroll checks, for which the owner hasn’t been found after a year.. Unclaimed property reverts to a state agency within the owner’s last known state of residence or incorporation after the year has passed. The agency is charged with trying to track down the rightful owners. In most cases, claims on this property can be made into perpetuity, either by the owner or the heirs.

At the same time, less than half of companies have in place written procedures covering any unclaimed property for which they might be responsible. That’s the conclusion of a recent survey by the tax and accounting division of Thomson Reuters. While the 80-plus survey participants were concentrated in the energy industry, it’s likely that the results apply to a wider range of companies.

About one-third of the survey participants either were or had been involved in an audit, and that number is expected to increase, Valerie Jundt, director of Thomson’s unclaimed property group, said in a release of the survey results. Many states are hunting for money, and may see unclaimed property audits, along with the resulting fees and penalties, as one way to gain funds. What’s more, a large percentage of companies are incorporated in Delaware – the state hosts more than 60 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 – which tends to have a higher number of unclaimed property audits than other states. Companies that fail to comply with state regulations governing unclaimed property or to file the proper unclaimed property reports also may face trouble at the Federal level under Sarbanes-Oxley, the release said.

To reduce the risk that their process for handling unclaimed property (or lack thereof) may get them in trouble, companies should develop a system for handling it and document their procedures, according to this piece in Compliance Week. They also need to file the proper forms with each state. Finally, they need to hold onto these documents forever, as no statute of limitations applies with unclaimed property audits.