unclaimed property is money, financial accounts, or items that a business or government entity cannot find the owner of. This most often happens when the owner moves and does not provide a forwarding address, or when the owner dies and the heirs are unaware of the property. The exact amount of time it takes for property to be deemed “unclaimed” varies depending on the type of property and individual state laws. In general, after one to five years of account inactivity or lack of contact with the owner, the company, or government, sends the property to the state treasury department. The funds or financial property will be placed in a state account in the owner’s name. Because state treasuries do not have the space to store items, it will typically sell any physical property and hold the proceeds for the owner or heirs to claim.
Types of Unclaimed Property
The most common types of unclaimed property are deposits for utilities, such as gas and water service, and property or money left in safety deposit boxes or inactive savings, checking and certificate of deposit accounts for three years or longer. Insurance payouts and refunds are also common forms of unclaimed property, as are uncashed annuity, dividend, estate, trust fund disbursements. Unused gift certificates may also turn up as unclaimed property, along with uncashed payroll, traveler’s and cashier’s checks and money orders. State tax refund checks often go unclaimed when people move out of state.
Many states have searchable databases of unclaimed property on their treasury department websites. Websites such as Missing Money and the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) also provide access to state unclaimed property databases. If you are the owner of the property, provide your name, Social Security number and current and all previous addresses. If the information you provided matches information attached to any property in the database, you will be able to claim it online and the state will mail a check to your current address, usually within two weeks. If the information does not match, or the state requires more information, you will be given instructions on the additional documentation you must provide.
Just under half of the states do not offer online searching and require search requests by mail. If you are the owner of the property, write a letter requesting a search for any unclaimed property in your name. Include your full current name, maiden name and any other previous names, your Social Security number, current and previous addresses and your phone number so the state can contact you if necessary. Mail the request to your state’s treasury department. The state will mail acknowledgement of your claim request within 60 days, but it can take up to 90 days from the date of acknowledgement for the state treasury to process and approve your claim and mail a check to you.
If you are an heir, you cannot make a claim online and must make the claim by mail. You must provide the above information about the owner and yourself and must provide documentation that proves your relationship to the owner and your right to claim the property. Such documentation most often includes birth, marriage and death certificates, but your state treasury department can give you more specific documentation requirements. If two or more people have a legal claim to the property, each of them must prove their identity and relationship to the owner and sign the release documentation.
No state imposes a statute of limitations for unclaimed property. This means that owners can always claim their property no matter how many years have passed. It also means that heirs can claim the property of a deceased relative many years later, as long as they are able to prove their relationship to the owner and their right to claim the property.
To search effectively include common misspellings or variations of your or the deceased owner’s name. Include middle names and initials. Search under maiden names or other previous names that may have been used in business or other financial matters.
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.