7 On Your Side: Can you cash an old check?

SAN JOSE, Calif.

The couple went from a feeling of euphoria to depression thinking there was no way they would be able to cash a 22-year-old check. Lucky for them, they were wrong.

Who says buried treasure has to be underground? Up in a San Jose attic, amidst dozens of dusty boxes, was an unopened envelope. Inside the envelope was a check from 1992 for $3,600. It was issued to Caroljean Reiser's husband, Richard. She found the check while digging through one of the boxes.

"I was excited and then I was kind of like kicking myself saying, 'How could I have this happen?'" said Caroljean.

The check came with a brief memo from Richard's then-employer Toshiba. The check was a work bonus. The memo spelled out how the company calculated his bonus. Richard remembers just shrugging his shoulders when he heard the news.

"It was like oops, we screwed up. We should have cashed it and then put the money aside rather than put the check aside and not cash it," said Richard.

But Caroljean wasn't ready to give up. She called the California Controller's Unclaimed Property Division. It's where uncashed checks are supposed to end up, but Unclaimed Property had no record of it.

"I was a little disappointed because I thought legally there was a requirement to do that, but I didn't know for sure," said Caroljean.

So Caroljean called Toshiba, but the division her husband used to work for shut down long ago. No one at Toshiba could find any record of the check.

"They basically said that the bank had closed, that the check was drawn on and that there was no possible recourse. That perhaps I should see an attorney," said Caroljean.

Caroljean decided to call 7 On Your Side instead. We called Toshiba and the State Controller's Office.

"We were very concerned, because obviously, we're enforcing the laws of the state of California," said California State Controller John Chiang.

Under the law, the Controller's Office said Toshiba should have reported the check after a year. It also should have tried to contact Richard after six months.

"We appreciate this coming to our attention. We're going to send a letter to Toshiba. We're going to set up a time by which we meet with them and we're going to check their records," said Chiang.

Before Toshiba received the audit notice from the state, the company decided to reissue a new paycheck to Richard.

The company told us it "holds the highest regard for its current and former employees. We were happy to resolve this case and re-issue the 22-year-old bonus check for the exact same amount after our HR department further investigated the situation."

"I was delighted. I was very surprised," said Caroljean.

Checks don't expire and the funds must be turned over to the state, if they are not claimed. Unclaimed wages, commissions and ordered refunds must be turned over to the state after one year. Most everything else including cashier checks, IRAs, life insurance benefits, savings, stocks and bonds must be turned over after three years. Richard gave his new found money to his wife.

"I lost it. She got it," said Richard.

The fine for failing to report unclaimed property is 12 percent per year for each occurrence. In many cases, you can e-file to get your money back.

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