TAMPA — Over its 100-plus years of existence, The Children’s Home in Tampa has often been named a beneficiary in the wills of people who were touched by the organization’s work on behalf of abused, neglected or abandoned children and families.
On Thursday, though, The Children’s Home received a posthumous gift in a roundabout way. Florida’s chief financial officer, Jeff Atwater, presented Children’s Home board members with a check for $395,000 from the state’s unclaimed property account.
The money was from the estate of a man named Jack Page of Seffner. Page died in January 2004 and named The Children’s Home as a residual beneficiary. That means that after the direct beneficiaries received their money from Page’s estate, and the legal bills were paid, anything left was to go to The Children’s Home.
“It’s pretty amazing that 10 years later, that large a pot of money is discovered and comes our way,” said Bob Krouse, the Children’s Home’s development director.
Krouse said his first inkling the organization had a claim to some money came when he got a phone call from a private firm that recovers such funds for a fee.
Before accepting the offer, Krouse consulted some attorneys on The Children’s Home board. He then checked the state’s unclaimed property website, FLTreasureHunt.org. There were 19 accounts on the site in Jack Page’s name, but no amounts or beneficiaries.
Two more organizations contacted Krouse saying they could recover money for a fee. One of the callers said the organization could lay claim to $280,000.
Instead, Krouse called someone at the state Department of Financial Services.
“She said, ‘I was just going to call you. We have a large amount of money you’re the beneficiary of,’” Krouse recalled. “The process was so easy. We filled out a form. We were specified in Mr. Page’s will as a beneficiary, so they had our name and address.”
It turned out Page was no stranger to The Children’s Board. His name is enshrined on a wall at the agency dedicated to significant donors.
“So we were surprised when this came through that it was the same person,” said Irene Rickus, president and chief executive officer of The Children’s Home.
Rickus said The Children’s Home, whose roots can be traced back to 1892, is often named in bequests from people living or dead whose lives were touched in some way by the agency’s work.
For instance, soon after Rickus was hired, the daughter of a man dying of cancer brought a check to the agency. The daughter had grown up near The Children’s Home campus and went to school with a girl who was being cared for by the agency.
“They would come pick her up and come out on Sundays and visit,” Rickus said. “They brought us a gift while he was still alive and we were so grateful.”
About 120 children live at The Children’s Home campus each year, Rickus said, and the entire program serves 15,000 children and adults a year in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. The agency works to strengthen families; heal victims of trauma, abuse and neglect; and finds children foster and adoptive parents.
Atwater presented the check to The Children’s Home during a meeting of the Florida Cabinet at the Florida State Fairgrounds. In addition to Atwater, the cabinet includes Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Atwater said the state is holding $1 billion worth of unclaimed property, mostly from dormant accounts in banks, savings and loans, insurance and utility companies. In addition to money and securities, unclaimed property includes watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, historical items and miscellaneous articles from safe deposit boxes.
Floridians can check to see if they are owed any unclaimed property by going to the state website, FLTreasureHunt.org. One out of four Floridians who check the website gets a hit, Atwater said. In the past year, the state has refunded over $200 million in unclaimed property, including a payment to the 3 millionth Floridian to get a refund since the program started in 1961.