Finding and Claiming Forgotten Funds
As a child, you may have dreamed about finding buried treasure, but you probably realized at an early age that it was unlikely you would discover a chest full of pirate booty. However, the possibility that you have unclaimed funds or other assets waiting for you is not a fantasy.
According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), $41.7 billion is waiting to be returned by state unclaimed property programs. So how do you find what is owed to you, even if it's not a fortune?
State unclaimed property programs
Every state has an unclaimed property program that requires companies and financial institutions to turn account assets over to the state if they have lost contact with the rightful owner for one year or longer (such as when the account has been inactive). It then becomes the state's responsibility to locate the owner. State-held property generally can be claimed in perpetuity by original owners and heirs.
For state programs, unclaimed property might include the following:
- Financial accounts
- Uncashed dividend or payroll checks
- Utility deposits
- Insurance payments and policies
- Trust distributions
- Mineral royalty payments
- Contents of safe-deposit boxes
To see whether you have unclaimed assets, you may have to search your state's database and the databases of states where you formerly lived or worked. It's possible that funds or assets are still waiting for you even if you moved away years ago. Fortunately, most states participate in a national database that you can search for free at MissingMoney.com.
Finding "lost" life insurance policies might take some legwork. Life insurance companies that can't locate a beneficiary must generally turn over benefits from an individual policy to state unclaimed property programs, but might not do so if the company does not know that the policy owner has passed away. If you believe that a family member owned life insurance but can't find the physical policy, you may need to look for evidence of it by searching personal records and files (assuming you have the authority to do so) or by contacting the policy owner's insurance agent, attorney, or other financial professionals.
Federal unclaimed property programs
The federal government also tracks unclaimed property, including:
- Tax refunds
- Pension funds
- Funds from failed banks and credit unions
- Funds owed investors from U.S. SEC enforcement cases
- Refunds from FHA-insured mortgages
- Unredeemed savings bonds that are no longer earning interest
Unlike states, the federal government does not have a central website for finding unclaimed money or assets, so you'll need to check a number of sources, including one of the biggest sources of unclaimed funds--the IRS--at irs.gov. To find out more about other federal programs that may hold unclaimed property, visit the NAUPA website, unclaimed.org.
Submitting a claim
To claim property, follow the instructions given, which will vary by the type of asset and where the property is held. You'll need to verify ownership, typically by providing information about yourself (such as your Social Security number and proof of address), and submit a claim form either online or by mail.
What if the listed property owner is deceased? A claim may be made by a survivor and will be payable according to state or federal law. For life insurance, you may need the full name and Social Security number of the deceased individual, a copy of the death certificate, and in some cases proof that you were the named beneficiary.
Private companies may be paid to locate rightful owners and/or offer to help rightful owners obtain property for a fee, but legitimate companies will ask you to pay only after you receive your property. State laws limit fees companies charge, so check with your state before you sign any agreement. However, in most cases you should be able to find the same property for free by checking state or federal databases. Carefully check out anyone who contacts you, because some scammers will claim to have property or represent that they are from a government agency in order to obtain other information about you or your finances. For more information about protecting yourself, visit the Federal Trade Commission's consumer information site, consumer.ftc.gov.