Recently, I received an email from a family member telling me that she discovered my wife's name on the State Treasurer’s list of unclaimed property. She sent a link and of course, we eagerly clicked through. Sure enough, we found her name and a note saying she had “between $10 and $100 in unclaimed property” being held by the state.
We also recently received a mailer from a retirement account custodian saying that they are holding money left over from my wife’s 401k account from a company she hasn’t worked for in over ten years.
Needless to say, I got busy finding out how to claim our "new-found riches.” What money is it? How much money is in the 401k? Did they buy some Tesla or Netflix or something and it’s now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? Why would we have an unclaimed property?” I wondered. Aside from the 401k, all that came to mind was thirty-some dollars in a credit union account many years ago. They had contacted us to come in to get a check for the balance because they were closing. We never did get over there to pick up that check back then, so we assumed that the money was long gone. Could that be the money the state was holding for us? I also have no clue how my wife can leave a 401k account behind for over a decade. Is there some fortune stashed in there we never knew about?
From the State Treasurer’s site, I downloaded a list of what needed to be provided as proof of identity and a form to be notarized. We copied the necessary documents, enclosed them with the notarized form, and sent it off to the State Capitol. A mere three weeks later, we received a confirmation letter, informing us that the claim was approved and to expect a check shortly. It also informed us that in addition to the credit union account balance, there were two other small amounts from stock he’d owned at a long-ago job. The total of our unclaimed property actually turned out to be more than $150.
Claiming the 401k account was much easier in comparison. There’s an online form we filled out to register for an account and that was basically it. We will have to figure out how to transfer that sum to our main retirement account, but I’m sure that’s pretty easy too. We found out that there was about $900 in that 401k now. Many years of fees were taken out of the account, so I wish we knew about it years ago and could have had it invested and grow. That’s water under a bridge now though. We are choosing to see these two events as a nice little sum to drop in our laps unexpectedly.
Could You Have Unclaimed Property of Which You’re Unaware?
The definition of unclaimed property is “Any financial asset that appears to have been abandoned by the owner.” State laws require financial institutions, public utilities, and various other entities to report personal property or accounts that have been inactive for some period of time specified by state law and whose owners' whereabouts are unknown.
You could easily be among the 30 million Americans who are believed to have unclaimed property. I’m pretty on top of my finances and I never thought we would ever be on this list. Still, here I am, claiming an unclaimed property on behalf of my family. It’s common for state governments to be holding more than $10 billion in unclaimed money and property and for an equal amount to be held collectively by other applicable institutions.
Common unclaimed property is:
- Utility deposits
- Credit balances
- Store refunds
- Uncashed dividend, payroll, or cashier’s checks
- Stock certificates or accounts, bonds or mutual fund accounts
- Life insurance policy proceeds
- Undistributed wages
- Checking and savings accounts
- Gift certificates
- Traveler's checks
- Safe deposit boxes
- Royalty payments
- Court payments or deposits
You and your property could have been separated because you’ve:
- moved, with or without providing a forwarding address.
- been laid off from a job, reassigned, or retired.
- not made a transaction in a checking or savings account for more than three years.
- stopped paying premiums on an insurance policy.
- not cashed a check made out to you over three years ago.
- unknowingly discarded notification of the existence of the property.
- settled a family member’s estate.
Retrieving Your Unclaimed Property
Since you could have unclaimed property in any state in which you’ve lived, check each state’s website for means by which to discover and recover it. Unclaimed property can actually be tracked down relatively easily. A useful resource is MissingMoney.com. Many states also have searchable databases for this purpose. If not, contact them by mail. Be certain to follow all instructions carefully and provide all necessary documentation. There’s no need to pay a service to search for unclaimed property on your behalf. They can be costly and eat into your found money.
Do you have an unclaimed windfall waiting to be discovered?