How to Claim Unclaimed Property
Nothing beats the joy of finding five dollars in an old pair of pants. Imagine finding $250 or $10,000. Given the amount of abandoned property in the United States (bank accounts, stocks, etc.), “found money” is a real possibility. The increase in abandoned property may be due to our increasingly mobile society, fewer people having children, as well as higher percentages of people living with dementia.
There are a number of resources available to help locate abandoned property. One free site, unclaimed.org, is run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property, (NAUPA) a nonprofit affiliate of the National Association of State Treasurers. In 2015, roughly $3.235 billion was returned of a total of $7.763 billion in outstanding unclaimed property. Unlike other sites that try to “sell” your unclaimed property back to you, unclaimed.org is run and maintained by the individual states. The databases are set up so that you can find unclaimed property by searching names in states where you or a loved one may have lived. In Massachusetts, findmassmoney.com allows you to search for unclaimed Massachusetts property.
There is no statute of limitations for claiming unclaimed property. In fact, property laws require financial institutions, government agencies, and other private businesses return all property to you, no matter how long ago it was lost. This includes claims by heirs on behalf of deceased family members.
Another great resource for finding unclaimed property is missingmoney.com. Also sponsored by NAUPA, this site saves users the trouble of running a state-by-state search. Rather, this website allows you to input your name or that of a family member and your current state of residence. Missingmoney.com will return a list of property being held in various jurisdictions that might belong to you.
Other common sources of unclaimed property are back wages, retirement plans, and pension funds. First, the US Labor Department maintains the “Workers Owed Wages” website, webapps.dol.gov/wow. This website maintains a database of past wages from previous employers. Second, the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits offers the opportunity to search for old retirement benefits such as a forgotten 401(k). At unclaimedretirementbenefits.com you can search with your Social Security number to find financial institutions holding your unclaimed funds. Finally, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation is a government agency that insures pension plans and maintains a database of owed money on their site pbgc.gov/wr/trusteed/plans.
With so many free resources out there, there is little need to pay for these searches. Be wary of sites that try to sell your property back to you and sites that force you to pay for the search. The goal is to locate your unclaimed property and return it, not to spend your hard earned cash.