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Is Some of the Billions in Unclaimed Money Yours?

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I write about money, but I also try to use the information I discover in my research. So years  ago, when I first wrote about unclaimed property, I naturally had to search for any lost money that might be mine.

I went to the Michigan Department of Treasury website, found the unclaimed property search page, clicked a few links, and entered my name. I saw this; “We’re sorry, your search found no matches with that name.”

Then I got curious and started entering the names of family members. It was my mother’s name that first turned up a record (and I found others too). Apparently she had an old insurance policy refund she didn’t know about, and it had been turned over to the state.

I called to tell her and, after a little paperwork, she got a check in the mail for about $900!

My father tells me that, just last year, he received two checks after going online and discovering unclaimed money held in his name.

So, as I prepared to write this, I searched my name again. This time, I found something! I’ll tell you the details in a moment, but first let’s answer the question…

What is Unclaimed Property?

Here’s how the State of Arizona explains it:

Unclaimed Property is a financial asset owed to an individual or business. Property is considered unclaimed when there has been no owner contact for a specified period of time, usually between 1 and 3 years.

When efforts by the holder to locate the owner fail, the funds must be turned over to the Department of Revenue who is then responsible for safeguarding the funds, attempting to locate the owners, publicizing the names of apparent owners who cannot be located otherwise, and returning the assets to the owners as they come forward.

Arizona, by the way, is holding $1 billion of these assets.That’s just in one state!

A common example of unclaimed property is inactive bank accounts. These are turned over to the state and, if the account holder has died, his or her heirs can claim the money.

Here are some other examples of assets that can easily “fall through the cracks” and become unclaimed property:

  • Utility security deposits
  • Various other unreturned security deposits
  • Dividends paid out after a brokerage account is closed
  • Stocks and other securities
  • Uncashed paychecks
  • Trust distributions
  • Refunds of mortgage insurance
  • Retirement accounts
  • Accounts receivable credit balances
  • Escrow balances
  • Property held by courts
  • Property held by other governmental entities
  • Amounts due under terms of insurance policies
  • Uncashed tax refund checks
  • Uncashed money orders
  • Contents of safe deposit boxes (usually auctioned and then the money is held)

Maybe you moved and forgot to pick up your last paycheck or close a bank account. Or you overpaid your mortgage insurance in the past and you’re owed a refund.

Or perhaps grandpa didn’t tell you before he died that he named you as beneficiary on his life insurance policy — you know, the one nobody even knew he had.

True story: I closed a brokerage account last year and never knew until a few weeks ago that a $60 dividend was paid into it after I closed it. I had moved, and was never notified. Had I not discovered this (by accident), the money would have been turned over to the state after another year or so.

There might be some unclaimed money waiting for you, right? Who knows? But you’re probably wondering…

How Do I Find Unclaimed Money That’s Mine?

In Arizona, where I currently live, the state has an Unclaimed Property Section,” which is part of the Department of Revenue. It’s website says, “Chances are one in seven of finding unclaimed property if you have lived in the state of Arizona.”

Well, I’ve lived here three times in the past 15 years, so I had to search. Nothing. So I went to the appropriate websites for other states where I’ve lived in the last 15 years. Montana; nothing. Florida; nothing. Michigan; still nothing.

Then I searched Colorado — I’ve lived there two times over the years.

Bingo!

There it was. My name, previous zip code in Canon City, and “Chase Bank.” Apparently I forgot to close out an account more than six years ago, and the money was turned over to the state. Sadly, the last column, indicating the amount, said this: “Under $50.”

That’s all the info you get until you click the “claim” button and start the process of filing to get your money back. I did that and had a claim form emailed to me. Now I could see how much money was there.

11 cents!

I’m not going to scan and upload my ID to complete the claim, just to get a check for 11 cents. So if you search “Gillman Steven” on what they call the “Great Colorado Payback” website, you’ll see my name there for a long time to come.

Are you ready to try for your 11 cents, or $11,000 (who knows)? The easiest way to search is to start here:

MissingMoney.com

This website is maintained by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), and will search the databases of all participating states and provinces.

Since not all states and provinces participate, be sure to check to see if yours is included. If not, just Google “unclaimed property” plus the name of your state or province.

And don’t forget to search the names of your family members too. While you’re at it, search your friends’ names. Heck, if you help them find a nice chunk of money they might at least buy you a beer, right?

How Much Could You Find?

Often the amount of the money owed to you will show as “unknown,” “undisclosed,” or you’ll see something like “Under $50,” “Over $100,” and so on. You usually have to file a claim (or at least start the process) to learn the exact amount.

I hope that if you do find something, it’s more than my 11 cents. It certainly could be. Consider Sharon Finn’s story

Even though Sharon Finn worked for a life insurance company, she never thought to look for a policy in her brother’s name after he died. Years later, just out of curiosity, she searched various family members’ names on the website of the Rhode Island Unclaimed Property Division.

It was there that she discovered an unclaimed life insurance policy in the name of her brother. All it said on the site was “Over $100,” but she did a few minutes of paperwork, provided proof of her identity, and within two weeks she got a check for close to $50,000!

North Carolina recently had it’s largest unclaimed property claim ever. The claimant apparently didn’t know his father had left behind some cash and stocks when he passed away 15 years earlier. The man, who chose to remain anonymous, received over $763,000! There’s a nice surprise.

Of course, those aren’t normal amounts. For example, last year the average claim in Tennessee was just $817. And then there is my 11 cents.

Still, it’s fun to look. It’s like a form of treasure hunting. In fact, Florida even calls their unclaimed property website “FLTreasureHunt.gov.

One More Search to Try

Consumer Reports says some insurance companies don’t notify heirs of policies even when the holder has died. They suggest that if a loved one has recently died, you should do the following, if you’re able:

“Contact the deceased’s employers, labor union, or even fraternal order to check for policies. Find and open safe-deposit boxes. Monitor the mail, e-mail, and online banking and bill-payment services for premium invoices or whole-life dividend notices.”

Insurance companies might also wait a long time before transferring the money to the states, so check the unclaimed property databases more than once over the years.

Have you checked for any unclaimed money owed to you? If so, tell us what you found… and keep on frugaling!

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