Attention Justin Bieber! The Actors Fund is trying to find you — and you, too, Haley Joel Osment, Abigail Breslin, Taylor Lautner and Shia LaBeouf. Not to mention thousands of others who have unclaimed money awaiting them from their days working as child performers. The Actors Fund is also looking for Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, and for Sarah Hyland, who plays older daughter Haley Dunphy on ABC’s Modern Family. The Lovely Bones’ Saoirse Ronan and The Way, Way Back’s AnnaSophia Robb also have unclaimed money coming to them. So does 50-year-old Nicolas Cage, still owed money from his days as a 17-year-old child star.
The Actors Fund is holding over $2.7 million in 17,452 unclaimed “Coogan Accounts” that had been held out of child actors’ paychecks and are supposed to go to them when they turn 18. It’s part of California’s Coogan Law, which sets aside 15% of child performers’ earnings so that their parents can’t spend it all and leave them broke, as child star Jackie Coogan’s parents did in the 1930s. If employers and payroll companies can’t locate the young actors or their parents, the law requires that the money be transferred to the Actors Fund, where it can sit for years waiting to be claimed.
The Actors Fund tries to locate as many of them as it can, but it’s a daunting task as thousands more names are added to the rolls each year. Even so, some on the list just shouldn’t be all that hard to find. Certainly Julia Roberts could help locate her niece, actress Emma Roberts, who starred in Wild Child and Hotel for Dogs. CBS can probably find Colin Ford, who co-stars on its hit show Under the Dome, while ABC can no doubt locate Kaitlyn Dever, who co-stars on the network’s Last Man Standing. And the Disney Channel probably knows where to find Laura Marano, Ally on its popular kids’ show Austin & Ally.
Kendall Jenner has money coming to her, and so does the Twilight saga’s Nikki Reed. There’s also money there for Ashley Tisdale, who splays Sabrina on the Hub Network’s animated Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch, and for ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liar co-stars Ashley Benson and Lucy Hale. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who co-starred opposite Chloë Grace Moretz in Let Me In, turned 18 in June and is now eligible to claim the money in his Coogan account. Moretz, who turns 18 in February, can apply now and have the money transferred to her personal Coogan account, or she can wait until she’s 18 and have the money sent directly to her. Glee’s Demi Lovato, Hannah Montana’s Emily Osment and Scandal’s Brenda Song are owed money too.
“We want them to have their money,” said Keith McNutt, director of the Actors Fund’s western region. “It does nobody any good to have this money sitting here.” The Actors Fund has a website (http://www.unclaimedcoogan.org/?q=applicants) for the accounts. “We encourage any current or former young performer to visit our website and see if they have any unclaimed funds in the trust. If their name is on that list, they should contact us and get their money.”
The Actors Fund became the custodian of the unclaimed Coogan Accounts in 2003. Since then, it has received just over $3,8 million on behalf of current and former child actors and background performers. As of March 31, the Actors Fund had paid out $1.08 million, leaving about $2.7 million in over 17,000 of unclaimed Coogan accounts.
The largest single account, according to McNutt, has $40,838 in it; another holds $30,344; yet another $26,598. The vast majority of the accounts, however, contain less than $100, mostly for children who worked only a few days. The most the Fund has paid out to a former child actor was $23,565, and the smallest payout was six cents.
Last year, the Actors Fund gave SAG-AFTRA a list of 94 names that had more than $5,000 in their Coogan accounts. Of those, 49 responded to the union’s outreach, receiving a total of more than $250,000. The Fund recently sent the union another list of 62 names, each of whom is owed more than $5,000.
The SAG-Producers Industry Advancement Cooperative Fund pays the cost of administering the unclaimed accounts, including all bank fees and charges, and gives the Actors Fund a budget to place ads in the trades to plead with industry professionals to check its website to see if they or anyone they know is on it. Still the unclaimed money piles up, year after year.
Retrieving the money in an unclaimed account, or even finding out how much is in an account, requires identification and can get complicated when employers and payroll companies have, for example, sent in names spelled incorrectly. The names of Kaitlyn Dever, Heroes’ Adair Tishler, and Jessie’s 12-year-old Skai Jackson, for instance, are all misspelled in the database. In other cases, first and last names are transposed, as is Ray Donovan’s Kerris Dorsey and Austin & Ally’s Laura Marano. And it might have taken so long to locate Nicolas Cage because he’s listed by his birth name, Nicholas Coppola, which he has never used professionally, though he was billed as Nicolas Coppola in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
For those with only a few dollars in their accounts, it may not be worth the trouble. McNutt, however, said that the Fund will let people “know if it’s worth their effort,” noting that “when people call in, they can give us their social security number, and we can tell them know exactly how much they have in their accounts.” He said that beneficiaries obtain the money by filling out an online application.
There are also thousands of unclaimed Coogan accounts for child actors under the age of 18 whose parents or guardians didn’t fill out the paperwork properly, or who moved and can’t be located. Maleficent’s Elle Fanning has an unclaimed Coogan account, and so does Modern Family’s Rico Rodriguez. Jaden Smith, Will Smith’s son and After Earth co-star, has one, and so do Prince Michael Jackson, the son of the late King of Pop, and Adam Sandler’s 8-year-old daughter Sadie, who has appeared in eight of her father’s films.
One group of kids who won’t be seeing any more money added to their Coogan accounts are child background performers, who collectively earn more than $3 million a year. A law went into effect on January 1 excluding them from opening Coogan accounts. Advocates, including the Actors Fund, argued that child extras work so infrequently and make so little money that it’s really not fair to them or their families to hold out 15% of their salaries until they turn 18. Opponents said the law was too broad; that some child extras work almost full-time in the industry and that denying them Coogan accounts risks the possibility of leaving them with nothing when they turn 18. The bill was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown without any press coverage whatsoever.