Find Money You Didn’t Know You Lost: Search State Unclaimed-Property Sites

On a recent Sunday, in less than five minutes of searching, I found $1,682. That total included $122 due my daughter and me, $495 due my mom’s estate, $102 due my dad, and $963 due my wife’s parents.

I periodically run the search and make claims to recover my immediate family’s unclaimed property, but the amounts for my parents and my wife’s parents were a surprise. My in-laws have never claimed their property, and their search results were typical, with many people having a few hundred to $1,000 or more held for them by the state.

Meanwhile, a search on three clients of our Bay Area wealth management firm in preparation for upcoming meetings returned $94, $691, and $3,579.

You, too, can find money you didn’t even know you lost by searching state unclaimed-property websites for the states you’ve lived in.

How to Find Your Money

Searching is easy. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) maintains links to the unclaimed-property websites of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and several Canadian provinces.

Using the map, click on a state you’ve lived in, and you’ll be directed to that state’s unclaimed-property website. Enter your name or company name to begin your search. The site will return information about any money the state is holding for you, including the amount and who the payer was.

Repeat this process for all the states you’ve lived in. You can also search for your family members like elderly parents or grandparents. If you are a trustee or executor of an estate, you can even search for a relative who has passed away. You may be surprised at what shows up.

According to the NAUPA, common types of unclaimed property include checking or savings accounts, certificates of deposit, brokerage accounts, stocks, mutual funds, uncashed dividend or payroll checks, insurance payments or refunds, life insurance policies or annuities, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, trust distributions, and contents of safe deposit boxes. It does not include real estate.

More About Unclaimed Property

Unclaimed property results when a financial institution or business loses contact with you or there has been no activity in your account for a period of time, typically one to five years depending on the state.

Each state has unclaimed-property laws that require financial institutions and businesses to report unclaimed or “abandoned” property to the state government, usually the state Treasurer’s office, which then becomes owner of the property. Depending on the type of property, the state may sell it and hold the cash value.

The state holds the property or cash until it is claimed by its owner or the owner’s heirs. Unclaimed-property laws are intended to protect consumers by ensuring that money owed to them is returned and not kept by financial institutions, businesses, governments, and other organizations. California is holding over $9 billion in its unclaimed-property fund. New York has over $15 billion in its fund.

Claiming Your Property

Searching for your unclaimed property is easy, but claiming it is a little harder. The state will require you to submit a claim form either online or by mail. The state will also require you to submit information that verifies you are the owner of the property. The process typically takes several weeks. Both searching and claiming are free, apart from the time you’ll need to invest.

You may receive solicitations from commercial businesses that will search for your property and submit claims on your behalf for a fee. These firms use the same process to file claims that you would use through the state’s website. You’ll still have to provide documentation that you own the property, which is the most difficult part of the process, so why pay a fee? Some firms claim to have commercial databases of unclaimed property that may or may not be complete or accurate. There have been reports of outright scams in this area as well.

Your best bet is to file directly through a state’s unclaimed-property website. Who knows? You might find enough to fund a weekend trip or put a little extra money into your investment portfolio.

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