Canada: Life Insurers Take Note: Ontario Launches Consultation Process On Proposed Unclaimed Intangible Property Program

The Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario (the "Ministry") has announced that it is seeking public consultation regarding its proposal to implement An Unclaimed Intangible Property Program (the "Program"). The Program is intended to (1) allow owners to become reunited with unclaimed intangible property and (2) allow such property to be used for the benefit of all Ontarians until it is reclaimed. The creation of a centralized registry of unclaimed intangible property that is easily accessible by the public is a key feature of the proposed Program.

According to the Ministry, millions of dollars worth of intangible property remains unclaimed by the rightful owners in various institutions across Ontario. Such unclaimed intangible property includes amounts due under insurance policies and interests represented by instruments such as share certificates and bonds.

Intangible property may go unclaimed for many reasons. For instance, owners may have forgotten about their property or may have died without alerting their family or guardians to the existence of such property.

Often, lost or forgotten intangible property is left in the possession of a financial institution; however, the financial institution is not the rightful owner of such property. In this regard, a financial institution may be burdened with the possession of unclaimed intangible property.

Although Ontario passed the Unclaimed Intangible Property Act in 1989, the statute was never proclaimed into force. It is intended that the Program consider legislative developments since 1989.

In 2003, the Uniform Law Conference of Canada developed the Uniform Intangible Property Act (the "Uniform Act"), intended to be used as a model by Canada's provinces and territories in designing legislation. Provinces and territories are free to choose elements of the Uniform Act as they see fit. Key aspects of the Uniform Act include a process by which holders of unclaimed property are able to notify owners of such property and the establishment of a public registry of unclaimed property.

Comprehensive unclaimed intangible property programs have been implemented in Québec (in 1997), British Columbia (in 1999) and Alberta (in 2008).

CONSULTATION PROCESS – SUBMISSION DEADLINE OCTOBER 12, 2012

The Ministry has launched a consultation process to allow the public to provide feedback on the key features of the Program, which will be set out in the bill to be introduced in the Ontario Legislature. The Ministry has highlighted the following four guiding principles that the public should consider when answering the nine specific questions posed in the consultation document:

  1. Unclaimed intangible property should not rest with holders of the properly (who are not the owners of the property) indefinitely and owners of unclaimed property should have an effective mechanism to identify and recover it.
     
  2. The government should be responsible for administering a program to enable Ontarians to be reunited with their intangible property once it has become unclaimed.
     
  3. Until that property is claimed, the property would be used for the benefit of Ontarians.
     
  4. Any additional burden to holders of unclaimed intangible property associated with the Program should be minimized to the extent possible. This may be achieved by legislation that is generally consistent with those of other jurisdictions.

The Program will be most relevant to all life insurance companies that have unclaimed funds.

MAKING A WRITTEN SUBMISSION

Submissions must be forwarded to the Ministry by October 12, 2012 and may be forwarded in the following manner:

Electronically

Email to john.a.lee@ontario.ca with "Unclaimed Intangible Property Program Consultation" as the subject line.

Mailed

John Lee
Counsel
Ministry of the Attorney General
McMurtry-Scott Building
720 Bay Street, 7th Floor
Toronto, ON  M7A 2S9

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Authors
Richard Da Costa
Miho Felicio
Gordon Goodman
Terry Hall
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