Military personnel frequently move, and sometimes things get lost in the shuffle. For example, you may switch banks or credit unions when you PCS and forget to close out an account. You may have been due to receive a tax refund, security deposit, utility deposit, or a dependent may PCS in the middle of a pay period and not receive their final paycheck. If it’s only a few hours, they may not even notice they didn’t receive it. But that money doesn’t just disappear – it gets turned into the state where it awaits to be claimed.
Each year, millions of dollars worth of unclaimed property and money are turned over to states across the nation. Individuals with rights to this wealth of assets may not even know they are the rightful owners of this unclaimed property. One in eight Americans could be the owners of the estimated 32 billion dollars currently held in states across the country. Here we look at some of the assets being held and how you can determine if you are entitled to any of this unclaimed property.
How to Find Unclaimed Property and Money
Types of unclaimed property
Sometimes referred to as abandoned property, unclaimed property is considered as any assets held in financial institutions that have no activity or contact with the rightful owner for one year or longer.
The following list is an example of common property that makes up the bulk of the assets currently being held by state treasurers and other agencies.
- Safety deposit boxes
- Stocks, bonds, mutual funds
- Checking and savings accounts
- CDs or trust funds
- Real estate (land and homes)
- Gift certificates
- Utility deposits
- Escrow accounts
- and more
Are you entitled to some of this wealth?
Anyone can find out if they are the rightful owners of unclaimed property by doing a little research. Since companies are required to send unclaimed property to the last known state of residency listed for the owner, your search can begin in the state where you currently live and other states where you have resided throughout your lifetime.
To make this search quick and easy, the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) recommends searching the website, MissingMoney.com. This website has a collective database of unclaimed property reported by individual states. While each state maintains its database, most also list unclaimed assets on the Missing Money website to make it easier for individuals to search in one central location.
Finding and Claiming Missing Money & Property
When the employee does not pick up paychecks, the business turns them over to the state as unclaimed. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators assists states in distributing these unclaimed paychecks and other unclaimed properties.
Claiming money is pretty simple if you find a name and address match. All you’ll have to do is fill out a simple form. It just requires basic information about whichever state the money is sitting in.
You’ll have to print out a claim form, fill it out, and then mail it. Each state has slightly different requirements for claiming money, but generally, it’s fairly easy. Each state is different. Some state governments are going to be quicker than others.
To claim the money, you must prove you have lived at the address listed on the money. Many people don’t have files from years ago proving you lived there. What do you do if you can’t prove you lived at the address? Is the money gone for good? Probably not.
If you have no way of proving you lived there, all you have to do is attach a letter to the claim form. After this, they will contact you with the next steps of getting the money. Once again, each state will have different kinds of forms to complete.
Similarly, if the person on the claim has passed away, you can still claim the money if you’re the rightful heir. You’ll have to go through a similar process. You will need to provide some documentation, like a death certificate.
How to prevent abandoned property
Remember, in many cases, the property is considered abandoned after one year of no contact. It is important to track where your assets are currently held – a good way to do this is to consolidate financial accounts.
When you move, get married, or have other major changes that result in little or no activity on a financial account, make a point to contact the institution to prevent that property from being turned over to the state. In some cases, the state can seize your property if it is not claimed.
To prevent having your assets classified as unclaimed or abandoned property, you need to be in contact with your account holder at least once a year (or less often, depending on your state). The good news is that contacting the company once will cover multiple accounts.
Escheatment laws also apply to joint accounts and minors, so performing regular activity for those accounts is best.
Here are some tips on how to avoid having your assets classified as abandoned:
- Make a list of all your accounts, including bank accounts, retirement accounts, brokerage and investment accounts, insurance policies, trusts, safe deposit boxes, and other accounts, and keep it in a safe place. This will help you stay organized and remember which accounts remain active.
- Login to any online account at least once a year.
- Make at least one balance inquiry, deposit, or withdrawal each year for each bank or brokerage account.
- Cash or deposit checks when you receive them (checks are usually only good for 6 months).
- Visit your safe deposit box at least once a year.
- Notify any holder of funds of an address change or a name change.
- Use gift cards, traveler’s checks, and gift certificates promptly (some gift cards expire or will not be honored when companies are in financial trouble).
Be wary of scams
Searching for unclaimed property using these resources is free. It does not have to cost you a penny. Unfortunately, many companies offer to do the legwork for you for a fee. It is important to note that paying a company or business to search for you will not turn up any property you would not have been able to locate on your own for free.
Companies called “finders” or “locators” are often hired by businesses trying to locate the rightful owner. These companies may track down the owner of unclaimed property and notify them of property that they are entitled to claim. This is usually accompanied by a fee (normally 10 percent). While most of these companies are legitimate, individuals must contact the unclaimed property office in their state to confirm they are dealing with a legitimate firm.