Jill Stewart,* a proud member of the National Guard and a foster mom, struggled to find steady employment during the pandemic, fell behind on her rent, and faced an eviction. Like thousands of low-income Ohioans, Ms. Stewart contacted her local legal aid for help.

Legal aid helped Ms. Stewart access Ohio’s rental assistance program so that she could pay her entire back rent and make her landlord whole. With legal aid’s help, the eviction was dismissed, and Ms. Stewart and her growing family have stable housing and are thriving.

Ms. Stewart’s story is a powerful example of how Ohio’s legal aid organizations work in all 88 counties to help struggling Ohioans maintain stability. In 2021, Ohio’s legal aid organizations helped more than 125,000 Ohioans resolve their civil legal issues to live safer, healthier, and more financially stable lives.

Effective April 12, 2021, an Ohio law created Attorney Unclaimed Funds, a new category of unclaimed funds that supports this crucial work. The law authorizes the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation to use these funds to support civil legal aid and access to justice. Now, thanks to a partnership with the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Unclaimed Funds, the Foundation is using Attorney Unclaimed Funds to make life better for Ohioans like Ms. Stewart.

Attorney Unclaimed Funds are:

  • Unclaimed IOLTA funds held pursuant to R.C. 4705.09;
  • Unclaimed IOTA funds held pursuant to R.C. 3953.231; and,
  • Unclaimed residual settlement funds, whether for named or unnamed plaintiffs. See R.C. 169.01(L).

With the Nov. 1 due date to file the Annual Report of Unclaimed Funds quickly approaching, Ohio attorneys should review their records to identify any dormant funds. Funds become dormant and eligible for reporting to the Division of Unclaimed Funds if the owner has not accepted payment of the funds, corresponded in writing about the funds, or otherwise indicated an interest in the funds for three years after the funds became payable or distributable to the owner.

Attorneys who report Attorney Unclaimed Funds to the Division must use the property code TR88. Please take extra care to use TR88 to ensure the funds go to the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation and, ultimately, to low-income Ohioans in need of civil legal services. Attorneys should complete the Division’s form OUF-1A to provide information about the company reporting unclaimed funds or to file a negative report and form OUF-2 to report the cash value of unclaimed accounts.

Some may wonder if the new law affects an owner’s ability to make claims on the funds. The answer is no; if a client comes forward to collect Attorney Unclaimed Funds after the attorney has remitted the funds to the state, the client can file a claim with the Division of Unclaimed Funds to have the funds returned. The Foundation’s FAQ answers this and other frequently asked questions and includes contact information for Foundation and Division staff if you would like more assistance.

As Ohio emerges from the pandemic, access to civil legal services is critical to a full recovery, and these funds will help. By fulfilling the requirement to report unclaimed funds, Ohio attorneys turn a professional responsibility into life-changing support for Ohio’s most vulnerable.

For answers to commonly asked questions about Attorney Unclaimed Funds, please visit the Foundation’s FAQ. Attorneys can also contact the Foundation’s Financial Services Director, Tammy Ringhiser, with questions or concerns.