Unclaimed property (sometimes referred to as abandoned) refers to accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity generated or contact with the owner for one year or a longer period. Common forms of unclaimed property include savings or checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler's checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states), insurance payments or refunds and life insurance policies, annuities, certificates of deposit, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, mineral royalty payments, and contents of safe deposit boxes.
What happens to these accounts that have no activity?
Acting in the best interest of consumers, each state has enacted an unclaimed property statute that protects your funds from reverting back to the company if you have lost contact with them. These laws instruct companies to turn forgotten funds over to a state official who will then make a diligent effort to find you or your heirs. Most states hold lost funds until you are found, returning them to you at no cost or for a nominal handling fee upon filing a claim form and verification of your identity. Since it is impossible to store and maintain all of the contents that are turned over from safe deposit boxes, most states hold periodic auctions and hold the funds obtained from the sale of the items for the owner. Some states also sell stocks and bonds and return the proceeds to the owner in the same manner.
How do states try to return this money?
The state treasurers and other officials who administer the unclaimed property programs have developed many powerful and effective methods to locate owners including the use of websites, cross-checking public data, staging thousands of awareness events at state fairs and even shopping malls, and developing a national database, MissingMoney.com. The methods work as tens of millions of potential lost owners inquire annually resulting in this vital consumer protection program returning money to people at a rate approaching two billion dollars annually.
How do I begin my free search?
Companies are required by law to send funds from lost accounts to the state of the owner's last known address. That means you could potentially have unclaimed property in every state that you have resided. You might want to begin your search on Missing Money, a Web site officially endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) containing the official collective records from most state unclaimed property programs. NAUPA will link you to every state unclaimed property program Web site where you can search. Both sites are free.