How to find your forgotten, unclaimed money
Dear Dr. Don,
Quite awhile ago, I put some money into a bank account. Is there a way to find out if there was money in the account even though the bank has changed hands?
-- Valerie Vacated
Dear Dr. Don,
My dad had a $10,000 certificate of deposit dating from 1989. He tried to withdraw the deposit, and the bank told him to check with the state (California) for unclaimed money. That didn't work. I called the bank back, and they told me that I'm out of luck. What can we do?
-- Edward Emptied
Dear Valerie and Edward,
If a bank loses touch with you for a period of time -- and how long depends on state law -- it will eventually turn the money in your account over to the state's unclaimed property fund. According to HelpWithMyBank.gov, a website operated by the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, most state unclaimed money programs look at whether there has been any customer-initiated activity or contact within the last three to five years.
The site also says that before sending the account balance to the state, the bank is usually required to try to find the customer. Banks may publish the names of the account holders in a local newspaper. Alternately, banks may send a letter to the last known address of the account holder. The bank will turn the account balance over to the state if there's no word from the account holder.
Which state to check? The bank should send the money to the unclaimed property division of the state from the account owner's last known address. Valerie, the money remains yours -- you just have to chase it down. It's fairly easy to do using your state's unclaimed property site.
Edward, once the bank has turned the money over to the state's unclaimed property fund, it's out of the bank's hands. Still, you shouldn't be out of luck. In general, a state holds the money for the account owner until it's claimed.
If the bank's last known address for your dad was in a state other than California, then checking with that state's unclaimed property office would be his next step. MissingMoney.com -- a site endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators -- can check multiple states in one search.
If the state in question was indeed California, your father should take a second run at the state's unclaimed money fund. He has the account documentation. The bank has said that it was turned over to the state, so the state should have the funds waiting for him. A letter from the bank stating that the account was turned over to unclaimed property would help his position with the state.
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