John McGauley, Court Administrator | Allen Superior Court
For Indiana courts, the COVID-19 pandemic meant an unprecedented time of change and challenge. When the time came to rethink the way in which it did business, Allen Superior Court found an opportunity amidst the turmoil.
In the summer of 2021, after months of research, the Court launched a program to find former property owners who were owed money following the foreclosure sale of their homes. When the program officially began in July, the Court found 45 former property owners who, altogether, had $282,000 in unclaimed, surplus funds held by the Allen County Clerk of the Courts.
When staff began reviewing foreclosure cases dating back to 2014, they originally found more than 70 cases with surpluses that had not been claimed by the homeowners. A surplus represents the difference between the amount owed to the financial institution that foreclosed on the property and the amount the property sold for at a sheriff’s sale.
Prior to the program, Superior Court staff—led by Civil Division Judge Jennifer DeGroote—returned more than $305,000 to former property owners on their own. Judge DeGroote, who hears foreclosure cases said, “the pandemic presented us with incredible challenges, but also this important opportunity. Our staff took the initiative to go back and track down dozens of people who had money waiting for them. This is the first time the Superior Court has done this, and the results have been remarkable.”
Judicial Assistant Eddie Dean proposed the project after being approached by a third-party company looking to do the same work for a percentage of the money. “Losing a home to foreclosure is devastating to anyone. Those homes represented an enormous personal investment. We felt that if a former property owner had money left over after such a difficult event, they should get it all,” Dean said.
Now, the search is on to find those with money still waiting for them. Court staff researched case files and other resources and sent multiple letters and notices to the parties in those cases. The Court has reached out through news media, its website, and social media to find them or their heirs. As part of its hunt, the Court built a targeted web page that includes a list of foreclosure cases with surplus funds and a specific email address to answer questions. A two-minute video, featuring Judge DeGroote, was produced to promote and explain the program.
Allen County’s real estate market has been hot in recent years, with homes selling for over asking price, and foreclosures sometimes netting more than the banks were owed. Most of the time, surplus funds from a sheriff’s sale are held by the Clerk of the Courts until claimed. If the money remains unclaimed, it is turned over to the Indiana Attorney General’s Unclaimed Property Division after 5 years.
“It has been an ambitious undertaking already to find so many former property owners and return the money they are due,” said Judge Craig J. Bobay, Administrative Judge of Superior Court’s Civil Division. “We encourage those who have been through a foreclosure to take a look at their records and review the list we have posted online. We want to do more, but we need help.”