According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), state unclaimed property programs are holding nearly $42 billion in assets, just waiting to be claimed by their rightful owners. Could some of it be yours? The answer may be a few clicks away.
Searching for Treasure
Unclaimed property generally refers to financial assets being held for owners that have not been found. Examples include:
- Financial accounts;
- Stocks and bonds;
- Uncashed dividend and payroll checks;
- Tax refunds;
- Trust distributions;
- Traveler’s checks, unredeemed money orders and gift certificates;
- Insurance payments, refunds or policies;
- Utility and rent security deposits; and
- Safe deposit box contents.
State unclaimed property programs require asset holders to turn them over to the state if they lose contact with the owner. In some cases, the state sells stocks or bonds — or auctions off the contents of safe deposit boxes — and holds the proceeds for the owner. There are also several federal programs that hold unclaimed property, such as tax refunds, pension or veterans’ benefits, insured deposits from failed financial institutions and unredeemed savings bonds.
Consulting the Map
How do you find out whether you own unclaimed property or whether you are entitled to such property as the heir of a deceased owner? Start by searching databases maintained by the state or states where you live and work, as well as states where you (or a deceased relative) previously lived and worked. Unclaimed property is sent to the state of the owner’s last known address.
Most states participate in MissingMoney.com (http://missingmoney.com), a national unclaimed property database that you can search free of charge. For states that do not participate in this database, you can find links to every state’s unclaimed property database on NAUPA’s website at https://www.unclaimed.org. There is no centralized database for federal unclaimed property; however, you can find links to the relevant federal programs on NAUPA’s site.
Staking a Claim
If you discover unclaimed property in your name, follow the instructions on the website where you found it. Typically, you will need to provide proof of ownership or, in the case of a deceased owner, a death certificate and proof that you are entitled to the assets (such as a will).
Finally, be wary of companies that offer to locate and obtain property for a fee. Some of these offers are scams. However, even if they are legitimate, in most cases you can find and claim assets yourself for free or by paying a nominal handling fee.