Summertime Treasure Hunt: Find Your Unclaimed Assets

unclaimed_money-300x300There is currently a staggering $41.7 billion in lost and forgotten assets, and approximately 1 in 10 Americans have unclaimed property. Most people who find their name on a list will have several hundred dollars’ worth or less from things like unclaimed dividends, overpayments, an unreturned security deposit, traveler’s checks, or a final paycheck from a part time job in college. But some people have very large sums waiting to be inherited from deceased relatives or old 401Ks. The largest payout to date was to a woman in Kansas City, MO who received $6.1MM in 2011. Her ancestors had invested in an obscure company, the stock was lost as it was passed through the generations, and the value continued to grow until she found she was the rightful heir. Other states have had similar examples; New York returned $4MM and Wisconsin has paid out $1.5MM, each to a single person. Recently, DWM helped one of our clients identify almost $12k in assets he wasn’t aware he was owed! Clearly it’s worth checking, and getting your money is usually easier than you’d expect.

When a company or financial institution has lost contact with someone for over a year, they are required by law to turn over the forgotten assets or funds to the state of the owner’s last known address, who is charged with trying to find the person or their heirs. Most states sell stocks, bonds, and safety deposit box contents since it would be impossible to warehouse all these items. The proceeds are then kept for the owner.

The best place to start is with your state treasurer’s office, but be sure to check every state you’ve lived in. You can perform a multi-state search (39 states participate) on www.MissingMoney.com.

Each state’s treasurer’s office has a website, which you can easily find through a search engine. For easy reference, Illinois is: https://icash.illinois.gov/index.asp and South Carolina is: http://www.treasurer.sc.gov/unclaimed-property. When searching for state treasurer’s websites, beware of .com websites, aka “finders”, that charge for searches you can easily complete yourself, for free.

There are a wide variety of situations that result in unclaimed funds. Sometimes checks are returned to the IRS as undeliverable. A family member may have unclaimed VA benefits. You have an old savings bond you forgot about. Also, state and county governments usually list unclaimed child support, but be careful not to fall for a pay-to-search website. The possibilities seem endless. Here are two websites with links for places you might not have thought to check: http://www.unclaimed.org/other/ and http://gma.yahoo.com/unclaimed-money-12-sources-forgotten-funds-200019047–abc-news.html.

It’s also possible you were named as the beneficiary on an insurance policy you weren’t aware existed. You would assume insurance companies would be required to track down beneficiaries, but that’s not the case; it is the beneficiaries’ responsibility to claim the benefits. This is the one situation where you might need to pay a search service since you need to know which company issued the policy to make a claim. MIB Solutions (formerly the Medical Information Bureau) is a private company that maintains a record for almost everyone who has applied for an insurance policy in the last 7 years. After that time, the records are wiped. http://www.mib.com/lost_life_insurance.html

Having unclaimed property is so common that ‘Good Morning America’ has a segment to reunite people with their assets called “Show Me the Money”. They have many useful articles and a list of myths and facts at http://gma.yahoo.com/unclaimed-money.

You may want to perform a search for other family members, your school, or even your church. The best way to prevent unclaimed assets is to keep your and your beneficiaries’ addresses updated, cash all checks promptly, and record safety deposit box and insurance policy information for loved ones. Wishing you luck on this summertime treasure hunt!