Imagine that one of your relatives or friends has telephoned to say that while surfing the Internet, they found your name in an unclaimed property database. Chances are you would be baffled and skeptical, to say the least. After learning that “unclaimed property” could equate to “unclaimed money,” your skepticism would immediately be replaced with sheer excitement and pleasure, as was the case with the heirs of a New York resident, who received $900,000 from the state in 1986.
Do you think that you, a family member or a friend could have money or property that is unclaimed? The chances are very likely that you do. In fact, according to Stephen Larson, the first vice president of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), one in nine Americans has unclaimed property. In the U.S., more than 500 million individuals fail to claim their property each year. It’s estimated that the federal government and all 50 states together have a total of $30 billion waiting for individuals to claim ownership.
Property is turned over to federal or state government as unclaimed when companies have held a person’s money for one to 15 years, depending upon type. Unclaimed property may include stocks, bonds, the funds in employee 401(k) plans, trust funds, bequeathed property and refunds from utility companies, which are all held for five years; unpaid wages, which are held for one year from payday; safe deposit boxes, the contents of which are held for two years from drilling date; money orders, which are held for seven years from issue date; and traveler’s checks, which are held for 15 years from issue date.
To find out if you have unclaimed property, sign on to www.unclaimed.org, the Website for NAUPA, a nonprofit government organization whose sole purpose is to return unclaimed property to its rightful owners and heirs. The national database will give you a link to the Websites of several federal organizations and all of the states. Although individuals, known as locators, will locate property for a fee, you can retrieve your property for free by doing just a few minutes of research. There is no time limit on claiming your money, and the majority of states will return your property at no cost. Only Ohio and Delaware assess a nominal fee.
“When searching on the Internet, check common misspellings of a name, reverse the name or try using just the first initial,” advises H. Carl McCall, comptroller for the state of New York, who is aggressively attempting to return $4.4 billion in unclaimed funds to New York residents, $700,000 of which belongs to a single individual. The state has more than 16 million people on its list, one of the longest in the nation.
To ensure that you receive any money owed to you, follow these steps:
- Notify all companies of a change of address.
- Keep accurate financial records.
- Make deposits or withdrawals from bank accounts at least once per year.
- Cash all checks promptly.
- Fill out a post office change of address form upon moving.
- Inform an attorney, family