Find Missing Money!
Do you every wonder where lost treasures end up? States oversee unclaimed property ranging from securities, uncashed dividend checks and inactive mutual fund accounts to dormant bank accounts. In addition to money and securities, unclaimed property includes tangible property such as watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, historical items and all kinds of goodies found in abandoned safe deposit boxes.
State treasurers are holding $35 billion in unclaimed property, a huge amount of money!
Reasons for having unclaimed property are many. Assets find their way into these pools when accounts remain inactive following account owner address or phone number changes, stock spinoffs to transfer agents, moves out of state or death. In the case of someone who has died, mail documenting unclaimed property often goes undelivered when an address changes to a personal representative or executor.
States receive these funds from businesses that cannot locate clients. State statutes govern the unclaimed funds, and require that financial institutions notify clients when accounts will be escheated, or abandoned, after remaining inactive for a set period of time, usually between one and five years. Even before someone dies, all kinds of people ignore their mail and forget to cash dividend checks. A long-lost aunt or uncle who left everything to you in their will could have been receiving regular mail about an account containing a few shares of AT&T, Microsoft or Apple, ignoring it until this property was finally turned over to the state. Heirs usually have no idea that the abandoned property exists.
Mandates to move inactive accounts from businesses to government abandoned property programs have increased in recent years, possibly because this pool becomes an important interest generator for states, often supporting public education. Florida’s unclaimed property website, for example, www.fltreasurehunt.org, reports that its unclaimed property accounts are valued at more than $1 billion, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, and securities and trust holdings.
After the funds are turned over to a state, the state becomes the custodian of the funds, not the owner. There is no statute of limitations on claiming what is rightfully yours.
While the rules governing these funds and claim procedures vary state to state, the process to claim property is free. Search online for your home state’s unclaimed property and any states where you have previously lived.
Having centralized pools of unclaimed funds does simplify searches. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), offers a national database for participating state sites, www.missingmoney.com. Although not every state participates in this service, Missing Money does offer general tips and a wealth of information.
Each state’s site will provide claim forms and require proof of ownership, which might be a government issued photo ID, Social Security Card, W-2 form, proof of address or legal documents such as a death certificate in the case of deceased relatives. In the case of deceased owners and assets held by deceased trustees, claim requirements might be extensive.
Be persistent! If you locate a reference to unclaimed funds that you might own, the treasure hunt begins. When the claim procedure is vague, write letters or call. Do not give up! It might take months to receive a reply to a claim. Each state’s website will specify how long the claims process can take.
According to NAUPA, scams involving unclaimed property are widespread. States report that senior citizens have been a target of fraudulent letters alleging help in finding unclaimed property for a fee. If you receive any letters regarding abandoned property, contact your state’s unclaimed property officials directly.
- Mary Lou Smart, RP®