How to Find Unclaimed Money

Every state in the U.S. including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands has a program for unclaimed property. These programs exist to find the owners of forgotten or lost money and other assets. The laws regarding unclaimed property date back to the 1930s, but the programs became much more proactive in the last two decades. Unclaimed property programs returned over $2 billion to more than two million claimants in 2011. Another $40 billion remains unclaimed.

What Constitutes Unclaimed Money?

Unclaimed money, occasionally called abandoned funds, is money in accounts held by banks, financial institutions or other companies. The accounts have had no activity or owner contact for at least one year. Frequently, the accounts are inactive much longer. The most common types of unclaimed money are checking and savings accounts, refunds, stocks, savings bonds, trust distributions, insurance payments, certificates of deposit, annuities, payroll checks, security deposits from utility companies, traveler’s checks and the contents of safe deposit boxes.

What Becomes of the Money in Inactive Accounts?

Each state has laws designed to hold unclaimed money in escrow until returned to the owner. This protects the assets from being used by the company if the owner has lost contact with them. The laws require the company to turn unclaimed funds over to a government office to hold them safely. Frequently, this will be a department in the state treasurer’s office. These officials must make a diligent effort to find the owner or the heirs of the owner. Many states will hold unclaimed money until the owner is found. The claimant must file the appropriated forms, verify identification and occasionally pay a small fee. Since storing and inventorying the contents from safe deposit boxes can be difficult, most states will auction the items and hold the money from the sale for the owner. Some states may liquidate equities such as stocks and hold the proceeds in escrow.

How Do States Find the Owners

Government officials and state treasurers who manage unclaimed funds programs have instituted many effective and powerful ways to find owners. Frequently, they use the internet, research public information, holding events to raise awareness at shopping malls, state fairs and other sights. A national database has been established called MissingMoney.com. Millions of people visit this database in search of lost money. This site has been responsible for returning billions of dollars to rightful owners.

Financial institutions and other organizations must by law send the unclaimed funds to the state of the owner’s last address. This means a consumer may have unclaimed money in each state he or she has lived in. An initial search on MissingMoney.com may turn up unclaimed funds. The web site has endorsement from the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), and it contains the collective records from many of the individual state run programs. In addition, most states run their own searchable websites. These sites do not charge a fee.

Preventing Unclaimed Funds

Assets become lost when the owner fails to communicate with the institution. Keep accurate records of all financial accounts including banks accounts, insurance policies, stocks, bonds and security deposits. Cash checks for wages, dividends, and insurance settlements immediately instead of setting the checks aside. In addition:

  • Respond to all inquiries for confirmation of stockholder proxies and account balances.
  • For a safe deposit box, keep accurate records of the location, the bank address and name and the box number. Leave an extra key with a trusted friend or family member.
  • In addition, complete and file a will that leave detailed instructions on the distribution of assets.

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