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States hold treasure trove of unclaimed property
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"Before signing any contract from a firm of this type, we recommend that you be cautious and contact the unclaimed property office in your state," NAUPA suggests.

A reliability report on asset finder companies can also be obtained from the Better Business Bureau.

"There are fine lines some companies tip-toe around," says Doug Broten, president of the Better Business Bureau in Fresno, Calif. "For instance, consumers should be leery of any company that asks for money before any service is performed."

You may have claim to forgotten money if :

Asset finders may need to dig beyond state records to look for money not turned over to the state. Here are other areas that may uncover forgotten loot, according to the Better Business Bureau.

  • Retirement benefits. Review your list of previous jobs. Did you work at a company for at least five years? If so, you could be entitled to retirement benefits. Call the company to inquire.

  • Pensions. If you worked for a company that went bankrupt, don't assume your pension is lost. There is a federal agency that currently insures millions of individual pensions. Write to: Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., Pension Search Program, 1200 K St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20005-4026 or call (202) 326-4000.
  • Bank accounts and utility deposits.You may have left town without closing your bank account or asking utility companies to return deposits. This is common among college students.
  • Union benefits. If you worked at a union job for more than five years, you may be vested in a pension plan and have a small life insurance policy. Check with the local or regional office of the union where you worked.
  • Life insurance benefits. More than 25 percent of life insurance policies that are sold go uncollected, according to industry experts. Search a deceased relative's canceled checks for the name of an insurance company or agent.
  • Money from real estate. Don't assume that a deceased relative's property was sold for delinquent taxes. Some property is listed on tax rolls for years before being sold, and any money that exceeded the tax bill would have been sent to the state while waiting for heirs to claim it.
  • Frequent-flier miles. Most airlines allow an heir to claim a deceased relative's frequent-flier miles, but some have a three-year limitation. Check credit card statements or the deceased relative's travel agent for an account number.
  • Keep track of records, accounts
    If you want to prevent your assets from ever reaching the unclaimed stage, Broten of the Better Business Bureau offers the following advice:

    • Keep accurate financial records and a detailed inventory of your bank accounts, stocks, safe-deposit boxes and life insurance policies.
    • Make sure a family member or trusted adviser knows where you keep your records.
    • Send a letter to all financial institutions holding your savings, checking accounts, IRAs and any other deposits such as certificate of deposits at least once every three years. The letter should contain your current address, phone number and other pertinent information.
    • Keep a checklist of all your financial assets, so that you won't forget to notify the institutions holding them if you change your address.

    Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: May 8, 2006
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