Abandoned Property Project
Source: Society of American Archivists
Fifty states, the territories, and the District of Columbia have adopted unclaimed property laws that pertain to “intangible property” such as money and financial instruments. The holdings of cultural institutions, however, fall under “tangible property.” This includes non-real estate property items—material that can be moved, touched or felt. Most states in the United States have provided libraries, archives, and museums with statutes regarding abandoned tangible property that has been given to a cultural or heritage institution and how those institutions may acquire ownership of the material in order to catalog, exhibit, and otherwise care for or dispose of it.
Most of these statutes provide definitions for what types of institutions can use the law; what constitutes abandoned property; and how long an institution must have physical ownership of an item before following the procedures to acquire legal ownership. These laws typically require that an institution provide legal notice about the property so that individuals or other entities who may have a claim in the property know of its existence at the cultural institution; lengths of time for this legal notice vary from state to state, as does how long an institution must have physical ownership before following this process.
As of 2016, four states, most of the territories, and Washington, D.C. have not adopted abandoned property laws with language specific to cultural institutions.