Informal Opinion Number: 990008

Rules: 4-1.15; 4-1.155; 4-1.6
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Trust Accounts and Property of Others

Reference Note: Effective July 1, 2016, subdivision 4-1.15(f) of Rule 4 was repealed and a new subdivision 4-1.15(f) adopted in lieu thereof. This opinion is based on Rule 4-1.15 in effect prior to that date.

QUESTION: Attorney recently received a notice from the State of Missouri advising that the statute requires all businesses, which hold abandoned or unclaimed property for as long as seven years, to report and remit all such property to the Unclaimed Property office. How does this relate to monies which may be held in a trust account for a long period of time because Attorney has been unable to locate the client? ANSWER: If Attorney is holding funds which belong to a client or third party, Attorney has an ongoing duty to make reasonable efforts to locate the client or third party to disburse the funds. If the amount of funds is such that the interest earned would offset the costs of maintaining a separate account, the funds should be held in a separate, non-IOLTA, interest bearing account. The interest should go to the owner of the principal. If the funds are not sufficient to warrant a separate account, they should be held in Attorney´s general trust account, whether that is an IOLTA or non-IOLTA account. If Attorney has been unable to locate the owner of the funds after the period of time specified in the unclaimed property statutes, Attorney may disburse those funds as specified in those statutes. If the funds were held in a separate, non-IOLTA interest bearing account, the interest should be disbursed with the principal. The unclaimed property statute does not apply to the client´s file because that would involve disclosure of confidential information in violation of Rule 4-1.6.

Informal Opinions are ethics advisory opinions issued by the Office of Legal Ethics Counsel to members of the Bar about Rule 4 (Rules of Professional Conduct), Rule 5 (Complaints and Proceedings Thereon), and Rule 6 (Fees to Practice Law) pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 5.30(c). Written summaries of select Informal Opinions are published for informational purposes as determined by the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri pursuant to Rule 5.30(c). Informal opinion summaries are advisory in nature and are not binding. These opinions are published as an educational service and do not constitute legal advice.

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