Recovering Unclaimed Property
The fact is staggering to contemplate, but state governments, Washington D.C., and some territories, are holding more than sixty billion dollars in unclaimed assets, just waiting for the rightful owner to step forward and file an official request for the return of the property. Federal agencies also maintain records of unclaimed money. Not everone is on the list and there isn’t a big pile of cashing waiting for everyone, but with all that unclaimed property it might be a good idea to check into it.
What Kinds of Property Become Unclaimed?
Each state writes its own laws and maintains its own databases for unclaimed property, so the rules and types of assets may vary from state to state. In most cases, there is no time limit on reclaiming property, and heirs can even file a claim after the original owner dies. Some of the most common types of unclaimed property include:
· Bank accounts and certificates of deposit
· Stocks and bonds
· Travelers checks
· Payroll, dividend or refund checks that were never cashed
· Items in safety deposit boxes
· Unredeemed gift certificates (only in some states)
Since states cannot indefinitely store the contents of safety deposit boxes, they may sell items of value at auction after a set time, but the proceeds from the sale would still be on the unclaimed property list. This is just a good way to get rid of the physical object yet still retain its value.
How Do Assets Become Unclaimed Property?
Since each state administers unclaimed property according to its own laws, details may vary somewhat. In general, when there has been no activity on an account or any contact with the holder of the account for one or more years, the institution turns over the asset to the state as unclaimed property. Many situations could account for this loss of contact or inactivity. Certainly stressful situations such as illness, divorce or death could result in the cataloging of the property to unclaimed status. Sometimes people simply forget about accounts or assets, especially when they move from one location to another. They may also fail to communicate the existence of the account to a spouse, child or grandchild.
How Can You Check for Unclaimed Property?
States have always taken an active role in seeking out the rightful owners of unclaimed property by maintaining websites, running advertisements and sometimes publicizing their programs at special events like state fairs. With advances in technology and databases, some states are automatically sending checks to owners when they find a match or mailing a claim form for larger amounts of money.
Individuals still need to be proactive, however, in tracking down the possibility of unclaimed property. You should search the individual websites of every state where you have lived. Don't stop with just your own name. Think like a detective since the claim time does not expire. Search the names of your parents, grandparents or any other relative or person from whom you inherited money.
Checking for unclaimed property is a bit like a treasure hunt. Part of the fun is conducting the search. Get started today and investigate state and federal agency websites. You never know what you may find.
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