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Unclaimed money: Here's how to find it
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"Most stock certificates people find are collectibles," Nester says. "Either the companies have long since gone out of business and there's no successor, or they were reported as lost (and new certificates were issued)."

If the company was absorbed by another company and the stockholders were supposed to turn in their certificates for new shares, you may have forfeited your right to the money.

"That's fairly rare because companies do look for you when you haven't been responding to their mailings -- proxy materials, annual statements, that sort of thing," Nester says.

The SEC has detailed instructions on how to research the current value of an old stock certificate.

If nothing else, you can do what Nester says some holders of certificates of dead dot-coms have been doing: selling them on eBay.

"Some of the certificates are selling for more than the companies issued them for," he says.

Life insurance policies
Missingmoney.com is a good place to start a search for benefits from life insurance policies.

There are some other routes to try, as well.

Dave Evans, vice president of retirement and financial planning at the Independent Insurance Agents of America, says every policy has to contain contact information. If you've tried that and can't reach the company, go to the insurance department of the state in which the policy was issued.

"If a carrier goes into receivership or someone else takes it over, they would know about that," Evans says.

The tough ones are the policies issued by small fraternal or ethnic organizations.

"There, you might try networking through circles of friends," Evans says.

Pension benefits
This source of funds could be an extraordinary windfall for a widow or widower living on a fixed income.

"If someone worked somewhere and got vested, as a spouse you're entitled to at least 50 percent of that pension, even if you're divorced," Evans says. "There are lots of women out there with pensions they're entitled to that they don't know about."

The federal agency that's charged with administering those funds is the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. Try this search for a list of individuals who are owed pensions.

Income tax refunds
This doesn't happen that often because the Internal Revenue Service has infinite resources at its disposal to find you.

If you move and don't leave a forwarding address, you may stay lost for a little while, but as soon as you get a job and paperwork is turned in with your Social Security number, they can find you.

Still, the IRS reported in 2000 that it was sitting on more than $67 million in unclaimed tax refunds -- an average of $734 each -- that came back to them as undeliverable. If the IRS owes you money that never showed up in the mail, call its hotline at (800) 829-1040.

Happy hunting!

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Sept. 17, 2001
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