|States hold treasure
trove of unclaimed property
The take can be as minimal as a
few dollars or as extravagant as the deed to a beachfront house.
Each year, billions of dollars in cash and property
go unclaimed, sitting idly in state government offices waiting to
be accounted for.
While the most common lost wares are payroll
checks, bank accounts, utility deposits and the contents of safe-deposit
boxes, some states have car titles and deeds to homes, as well as
expensive jewelry and art, according to the National
Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), a
nonprofit organization affiliated with the National Association
of State Treasurers located in Lexington, Ky.
Moving details forgotten
How does the money end up in the hands of the state in the first
place? The reasons vary, but, typically, when people move to another
state they forget to close bank accounts or neglect to leave a forwarding
address so that important documents can be sent to them. The result?
Money gets lost in the shuffle and, if it goes unclaimed for one
year to five years, ends up in the gargantuan files of some state's
Department of Revenue.
Banks, insurance companies, investment companies
and other businesses are required by law to surrender inactive accounts
to their state's department of revenue or similar office. The state
serves as custodian of this money until the rightful owner claims
it. The state never takes ownership of the money, there is no time
limit for making a claim and no fee is charged.
Holders of the goods make serious efforts to
locate owners through newspaper ads and mailings, as well as setting
up booths at carnivals and malls. Some pay for television and radio
"All states make a diligent effort to locate
lost owners. Government unclaimed property programs are currently
safeguarding $24 billion in 79.5 million accounts," according
to officials at NAUPA. "States are now returning $1.2 billion
annually as a result of 1.3 billion claims being filed."
The benefits of a little effort
Despite these efforts, for some consumers, the
hard part is knowing how and where to look. But with a little determination,
a phone book and the use of public records, the average person can
find these hidden treasures easily -- without using an attorney
or paying a company to find it.
Make another list of deceased relatives, including
their Social Security numbers and birth dates. Usually, all that
is needed to claim a deceased person's property is proof of relationship,
such as a birth certificate or a marriage license.
NAUPA recommends to begin searching in the state
databases or Missingmoney.com
on the Internet, or by contacting any state unclaimed property office.
Repeat the process for every state where you or your deceased relatives
While laws require that companies turn over
abandoned stocks to the state, not all companies comply. If you
have lost track of stocks, begin your inquiries directly with the
Many states publish newspaper advertisements
listing the names of people who have money coming to them. If you
check the list and don't find your name, keep searching. Most states
advertise only the names of people whose property they received
during that year.
Getting professional help
Some companies will locate unclaimed property and, for a percentage
of what's due, will help collect it. The NAUPA says it's perfectly
legal because the finder has obtained information from state records
and by law is allowed to contract with people for a fee. The fee
for assistance varies, but many states limit the fee to 10 percent
of the total amount of the unclaimed property.