How to find unclaimed money (and unclaimed property)

How to find unclaimed money (and unclaimed property)

July 21st was the fifteenth anniversary of my father's death. He died of cancer at age 49, just ten days shy of his fiftieth birthday.

When Dad died, he left behind a meager estate. Aside from the custom box business (which, admittedly, was not “meager”), he managed to leave each family member with $5,000 in life insurance proceeds, and that's about it. His personal finance skills had never been great, and that included estate planning.

More than ten years after his death, however, I was contacted by a company out of Florida. “We have your annuity,” they told me.

“What annuity?” I asked. And they explained that my father had opened an account for me in 1977, when I was just eight years old. He had made a single payment into the account, and then forgotten about it. For the past 30+ years, the account has simply been earning interest. The balance is now $438.79.

Now that I know about this account, I can cash it out by providing a copy of my father's death certificate. But before the company tracked me down, this was a classic case of unclaimed money.

What is Unclaimed Money?

In most (all?) states, banks, utilities, insurance companies, and investment companies — along with many other businesses — are required to surrender inactive accounts to the state. These accounts are known as “lost”, “abandoned”, or “unclaimed” property. They contain unclaimed money.

Unclaimed property can include things like:

  • Forgotten savings accounts
  • Uncashed paychecks
  • Unclaimed security deposits
  • Unused gift certificates (not in all states, obviously)
  • The contents of a safe deposit box
  • Investments, including stocks and mutual funds

When this property has been legally “abandoned”, it's turned over to the government, which acts as a custodian until the rightful owners steps forth to claim it. Until then, most states use the proceeds (and the interest earned on the unclaimed money) to help fund operations.

If you can prove that you're the rightful owner of a particular abandoned asset, you can reclaim it. For free.

Important: You should almost never pay to regain your unclaimed money and property. Governments and other agencies provide this information for free, and only require that you provide documentation that the unclaimed money belongs to you. You don't have to pay a fee. There are companies out there that try to act as an intermediary, but you do not have to use these. You can find unclaimed money yourself for free.

How to Find Unclaimed Money

I've written before about using MissingMoney.com to find unclaimed property. The latest issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser has a great article describing how to find forgotten assets. From the story:

It's easier than ever to find forgotten property thanks to the increasing number of databases. In most cases, it makes sense to do the sleuthing yourself rather than pay a finder firm to do it for you. If you locate funds that are yours, the fiduciary that holds them will provide specific instructions on how to claim them. You'll need proof of your identity. If the property belonged to a deceased relative or friend, you'll also have to prove that you are the executor of the estate or the rightful heir.

Here are the methods Consumer Reports recommends for finding and reclaiming lost property (along with a few tools I found on my own):

  • For property held by states, use MissingMoney.com. (Or just scroll down this page to the list I've put together that links to each state's unclaimed property department.
  • If you think the IRS owes you money, head over to its website and use the Where's My Refund? tool.

The U.S. government also has an official government may owe you money page where you can check for unclaimed property, mortgage refunds, and more. Also, my buddy Jeff Rose recommends visiting Benefits.gov to see if you qualify for any government benefits. (DisasterAssistance.gov lets you see if you qualify for disaster-relief programs.)

The Money Adviser article provides more information about working with each of these sources. And, of course, the individual websites have detailed instructions for locating unclaimed money and other assets.

Search for Unclaimed Money by State

In addition to those national searches, each state has a department for unclaimed money and unclaimed property. I found a page that linked to all of these different resources, but the site was woefully out of date. So, I spent a warm Sunday afternoon in my non-air-conditioned office tracking down the current locations of each state's unclaimed property office. (And I've included some info for Canadians, too.) Please let me know if you spot any errors or broken links!

I haven't been able to find any other unclaimed money in my name other than the annuity my father opened when I was eight. That's fine. After all, the odds are very slim that there's anything out there that I've forgotten about. But it doesn't hurt to take a few moments out of your day to see if there's a savings account out there that your parents opened when you were a young squirt — one that's been quietly earning interest in your name for thirty years!

Have you ever tracked down some forgotten assets? How did it work? Can you provide some tips based on your experience? Are there other tools and resources that should be added to this list?

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PMT
PMT
10 years ago

I tracked down a couple hundred dollars a few year back for my wife. Her parents had opened a savings account when she was a kid and forgotten about it. A quick search of the internet, a simple form and a check was sent our way.

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

We used missing money a few years back and found a reimbursement from graduate school that had gotten lost in the mail or something. Like PMT said, a simple form and a check was sent.

lostAnnfound
lostAnnfound
10 years ago

“he managed to leave each family member with $5,000 in life insurance proceeds, and that’s about it” Did you expect your father to leave his family with much more? It sounds like you were perhaps disappointed you didn’t get more than the $5,000. I hope my parents leave nothing. My father & mother worked & saved so that they could retire comfortably, not lavishly. At the same time, they brought up four kids & clothed & fed us, gave us some extras (a vacation at the beach, a pool in the yard for summertime fun), and were there when we… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
10 years ago

lostAnnfound (#3) wrote: Did you expect your father to leave his family with much more? That’s a great question, actually. I’m not sure what I expected. My relationship with my father was strained over the last few years of his life, and as a result, some of my memories have been colored in a negative way. Does that make sense? The reality is he couldn’t leave more, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were his poor financial skills. Now that I’ve learned more about money, I’m aware of the options he had, if he’d planned, but… Read more »

Bernadette
Bernadette
10 months ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I got one am grateful you shared your story. I am currently working on tracking down a joint account I had with my Father when I was sixteen and got my first real job he took me to the bank and told me whatever I put into the account he would match it. Well I put almost my whole paycheck in for a while, and he did match it, plus some! Anyway long story short, I stopped putting my check in, he and I had a falling out so I assumed he closed it… But I’ve found some papers that… Read more »

Daria
Daria
10 years ago

My grandmother left some unclaimed money with the state of New York and the state of New Jersey. One was a small amount in a savings account and the other was a utility deposit. Unfortunately, my father would have had to provide his birth certificate, her marriage certificate because she had remarried and a death certificate for her and for his brother in order to claim these small amounts. By the time you added up the costs of ordering those 4 documents in order to prove that he was a legitimate heir, it wasn’t worth it.

smirktastic
smirktastic
10 years ago

I haven’t found any for myself, but did find an unclaimed savings account of my grandmother’s and a refund check for my aunt. So it’s definitely worth a few minutes to check it out.

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
10 years ago

I really need to do this for my grandma’s estate. I knew about one resource to find missing money (checking by state), but you provided a wealth of info that I need to check out.

lostAnnfound
lostAnnfound
10 years ago

#4 – true J.D., that is not the point of the story. Didn’t mean to go off topic. 🙂

Anyway, unfortunately (or fortunately?) no unclaimed monies for me searching by state. Thanks for providing other means of searching.

Trini
Trini
10 years ago

Does an account have to have been inactive for 30 years before it will turn up on these databases?

Kevin M
Kevin M
10 years ago

On the other side of this equation – if you own a business and have property that belongs to another party, sometimes you are required to file that as unclaimed property with the state.

Examples:
1)a customer overpays an invoice and therefore has a credit on account
2)an employee leaves and you can’t track them down for their final paycheck

Katrina
Katrina
10 years ago

My father left a fairly good sized estate of half a million dollars. His will specified that the gathering and distribution of assets, after his death, would be handled by Comerica bank. It was their incompetence that led to me being contacted in 2005 by Keane, a company who connects lost assets to the people who own them. I was suspicious to get a letter stating they found a $10,000 asset which was mine. I called them and they said that the asset belonged to my deceased father, if they collected it for me they would charge 35%, and if… Read more »

Meg
Meg
10 years ago

I should probably do this. It can’t hurt to look!

I was thinking about comment #3: I don’t think the deceased *owes* anyone anything. I think the point is that JD’s dad didn’t know how to invest.

tinytx
tinytx
10 years ago

My father was unemployed for two years but fortunately had savings to fall back on (not to mention zero debt and a paid-for house). However, as his funds began to dwindle, my husband checked unclaimed property to see if he had any money owed to him. There was none owed to him, but my mother (deceased) and her father (also deceased, and my mother was an only child) together had about 8K in unclaimed funds. We helped him with the paperwork, and that stash of money ran out right as he received his first paycheck from his new job. It… Read more »

Shari
Shari
10 years ago

Years ago, I found a booklet for a savings account that my parents had opened in my name and forgotten about. When I went to the bank to see if I could get the money, they said that they closed any unused accounts after a certain number of years. As far as I know, my parents were never notified of this, since they were quite surprised when I told them about it.(And they hadn’t moved!)It couldn’t have been more than ten years, since I was only 18 at the time. They just kept the money. It wasn’t much, but still….I… Read more »

Julia
Julia
10 years ago

A note: banks don’t keep the money. It is turned over to the state. All banks have to tell you the inactive date and when funds will be turned over the state. They will also send you multiple letters announcing the funds are about to go the state and what you can do. Don’t just blame the banks, it is a two way street of information.

Brian
Brian
10 years ago

I checked for unclaimed money years ago and just forgot about it. Even though I wasn’t expecting any money, and didn’t expect to find anything out there, I recently checked again. This time I found a $30 refund check for a hard drive I had bought which had somehow ended up in the state’s possession even though it was addressed to my correct mailing address.

It’s not much, but it was a cool find. Also, it’s worth checking every once in a while.

suzy
suzy
10 years ago

Hey JD, if you don’t mind saying, what was the amount of your father’s original payment into the annuity?

Maharani
Maharani
10 years ago

I used MissingMoney.com and received a $72 AT&T refund from 16 years ago just a couple of weeks ago!

Koz
Koz
10 years ago

Thanks for this. I had forgotten about this MissingMoney.com, and just checked it to see if I had anything owed to me. I found a $36 deposit I made a few years back that the state had a record for. I just printed out my claims form and will be sending it out today.

Thanks JD!

MutantSupermodel
MutantSupermodel
10 years ago

I recently helped my friend collect $500 in unclaimed money from an insurance claim. Super easy process!

Chris
Chris
10 years ago

I checked into this a few years ago. Didn’t find anything for me, but found something for my brother-in-law. I told them about it, but they didn’t follow up on it. I don’t know why. I also found several lapsed policies for my aunt. I told her about it and she said she would follow up on it (she had gotten ill, which is why they had lapsed). re: old bank accounts. My parents opened a passbook savings account for all of us in the 1970s when we were kids. Both my sister and I had closed ours out long… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
10 years ago

@Suzy (#17) I don’t mind saying how much my father’s original payment into the annuity was, but the truth is I don’t know! None of the paperwork I’ve received has that info. I’ll have to ask the company when I talk with them next. I do know that the annuity was church-related. At that time, my family attended the Mormon church (which is the church my mother was raised in). The annuity was started on the date of my baptism, and is called a “missionary fund”, so was meant to be cashed in when I turned 18 and went on… Read more »

Karen
Karen
10 years ago

Hi JD, For Canadians, they can check to see if they or their loved ones have any dormant accounts at the Bank of Canada: http://ucbswww.bank-banque-canada.ca/ We did this for my father (he died 20 years ago. I’m sorry for your loss as well) and although there was no money left in any account, it relieves the idea that there could have been. It’s also very common for parents to set up their child’s first bank accounts when they are quite young and often children forget about these first accounts. So, everyone should check to see if they have money sitting… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
10 years ago

Wow, I just found a for sure amount that is my Father In laws. I am going to call him today and offer 50% commission to tell him!! Or maybe I’ll tell my hubby to tell him for 25%. Just kidding!! Thanks this was great info.

WaterBishop
WaterBishop
10 years ago

I just found a small refund for me resulting from a class action lawsuit with my phone company from eight years ago.
I remember when it was filed. Now I can claim my check for what will likely be about $10.
I did find some stuff out there for my in-laws. They move quite often, so they have claims across several states.

The Skeptical Housewife
The Skeptical Housewife
10 years ago

Hmph, nothing! I’ve checked this before, using everyone’s name I can think of, but nothing comes up.

I do have a big “what might have been” story, though. My paternal grandfather bought land on English Bay in Vancouver, in the 1920s, I believe. But he was killed while working on a train at a young age (26), and my grandma couldn’t afford the taxes so she just let the land go. Now that land is prime real estate and would have been worth a fortune! Makes me cry, it does.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

This reminded me to get my husband to claim his last paycheck from a part-time job he had 5 years ago…he has known about it for a year but hasn’t done the paperwork necessary since it’s “only” about $50. I want it anyway since it is $50, lol. 🙂

Panda
Panda
10 years ago

I really didn’t expect to find anything for me, but found $4 ! Heh. And about $100 for my brother.

Both of which relate to 10 shares of Dow Stock that we both won as part of our scholarships.

Carol@inthetrenches
10 years ago

When we checked a few years ago there was $1,000 and we also found money for numerous relatives. When searching we used all variations of our names including just first initials. Since I had married name, maiden name, and hyphenated name I checked them all including common mispellings.

And, thank you for mentioning about the locators that call and try and get a big cut for notifying you. They tried this when my mother passed away. (Small cut reasonable but too big and it’s just taking advantage.)

Rob
Rob
10 years ago

I grew up on a farm in Virginia that had electric service provided by a small rural cooperative. To establish an account when we moved there, my parents had to buy three “shares” in the co-op. Long after my folks passed and I moved to Oregon, I stumbled across the co-op’s monthly newsletter online and in that particular issue my dad’s name was on a list of members having unclaimed funds. A phone call and a faxed document was all it took to redeem those forgotten shares (initially $300, grew to $1100 – but that’s after nearly fifty years).

Shell
Shell
10 years ago

Oh wow, thanks JD! I found $97!! I think I can purchase your book now =)

Caroline
Caroline
10 years ago

Thanks for the information for Canada and Québec. I just found 2,69 $ for my sister… 😉

Garett
Garett
10 years ago

A few years ago I recovered about $400 in unclaimed property that was turned over to the State of Illinois from a final paycheck from a summer job that I had years ago. I am an attorney for a nationwide engineering company that has been in business for 40+ years, so I also checked to see if any unclaimed property owed to my company had been turned over. I ended up collecting over $100,000+ in unclaimed money owed to my company. As far as search tips, for people to run searches, it is usually best just to do your last… Read more »

Mama Koala
Mama Koala
10 years ago

Thank you for this–thanks to these resources I just found around 100.00–an unexpected “snowflake” to throw at the debt.

Shari
Shari
10 years ago

In my earlier post, I mentioned that an old account of mine was closed and the bank kept the money. I know this sounds unlikely and wrong, but I am just going by what the bank told me when I went to try to get the money. When I asked what happened to the money when they closed out my account, the teller said “It goes back to the bank”. Exact words. She was probably wrong, but I was very young and naive and didn’t think to question it.

Kathy A.
Kathy A.
10 years ago

I was sure I didn’t have any unclaimed money, but clicked on the link as a lark. Found $20 a mortgage company owed me. (A bit irritating, since they have my current address.) Thanks!

Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things
Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things
10 years ago

JD-
I read the title and thought to myself “JD’s lost it” 🙂

Turns out this is one of the best resources I’ve read on the subject. Good stuff =)

Phyllis
Phyllis
10 years ago

Back in the 1980’s I worked for an oil company trying to track down former employees with unclaimed money in their stock option plan. Approximately 80% of the money went unclaimed as we no longer had accurate mailing addresses and didn’t have the benefit of the internet at that time. If you are managing an estate, I suggest you contact the HR department of former employers. My MIL worked as the safety deposit box clerk at a bank. They had many unpaid, unclaimed and essentially abandoned boxes, even in her very small town. The unclaimed money & safety deposit box… Read more »

Sheila
Sheila
10 years ago

When I first saw a story on this years ago, I checked my mother’s name and found some dividends that were unclaimed. She’d passed away, but my father was able to send in her death certificate and get the $. I looked up my youngest daughter’s name several years ago and discovered a utility deposit that she’d never received. She was out of work at the time so the $50 came in handy.

Evelyn
Evelyn
10 years ago

Found two in my home state under my maiden name! One says it under $100 and one says its over $100. Will print out form this evening. Thanks JD!

S
S
10 years ago

Never pay a fee to recover unclaimed monies! And ladies, remember to search under your maiden name, too.

My first full-time job was handling unclaimed accounts for a Savings and Loan (remember those?). At the time, the S&L was required to send letters to the customers and report the accounts to the State on the 5th, 6th and 7th year of inactivity before turning over the money to the State. My best recovery was a $15,000 account.

JM
JM
10 years ago

Just found nearly $100 in my mother’s name and address! I gave her a call about it and I’ll be giving the claims form to her the next time I see her. Thanks JD!

Nathan
Nathan
10 years ago

Our family was recently contacted by Keane, regarding a sum of money left unclaimed by my deceased grandparents from the demutualization that created Principal Financial Group in 2001. Keane is asking for 20% of the proceeds as a finders fee. We’re trying to decide whether to try to claim the money on our own or to accept Keane’s offer. Our initial investigations are showing that getting the money on our own won’t be trivial and will involve my grandparents’ wills and probate.

Does anybody have experience with Keane, in particular claiming proceeds from a demutualization as an heir?

Sheila
Sheila
10 years ago

Although a year after my father died, I checked unclaimed property, I checked again today after reading this and discovered two accounts that are “over $100.” One is the refund of an auto insurance premium that appears to have been sent to the wrong address, and the other is a CD that I didn’t know he had. The CD is a lesson in making sure you find out about ALL the accounts your parents have before possible dementia sets in.

Executrix
Executrix
10 years ago

In working on my late parent’s estate, I found unclaimed property for both of my late parents. My state will not tell you any information about the value, just the name of the entity where the property is from. In talking with the Probate Court, I discovered that unclaimed property from Utility Company fee rebates for a personal estate usually will be as small a few cents. Not really worth the hassle of reopening the estate, finding all the required documentation, filing forms etc.. While on principle I would like to receive this rebate, at $10 per form, just obtaining… Read more »

LK
LK
10 years ago

Thanks for this post, on a whim I checked my name in the states that I have lived in and found I’m owed $9.80 from stock dividends.

GrannyAnnie
GrannyAnnie
10 years ago

Just to pass the time, I clicked on the links provided and searched for all the names of folks in my family. I found $133 refund owed to my husband, a $100 deposit refund owed to my daughter, several unclaimed amounts for my stepdaughter, and the whopper of all is I found over $1000 for ME! Apparently a small place I used to work for set up some type of pension fund for the employees, and I did not know I was enrolled! I’m sending in the paperwork in the morning! 🙂

karla
karla
10 years ago

As for banks taking back the money, more than likely (like others have mentioned) they actually were charging an inactivity fee and the account went back to 0.

Our credit union did that to our minor daughters’ accounts back in the day of paper statements every quarter (even though they weren’t supposed to) In the three months between statements the fees were enough to nearly close the accounts. After pointing out the obvious (and all I got was the opportunity to vent), I set up automatic transfers from our account to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Gayle Tate
Gayle Tate
10 years ago

For “lostAnnfound”… if you think about it, it actually dishonors your parents if you leave their legacy laying fallow. After my father died, I could have fought for my “rights” to his estate… but, let it go to the heirs of his second wife. On the other hand, I vigorously sought and received some of the property he had left for my brother and me. It’s not always a clear cut call, the issues of money or property from a loved one. I would rather honor their memory by examining an issue from every side, then do what is honorable.… Read more »

C R
C R
10 years ago

I’m my grandmother’s power of attorney. And I recently found her low 6-digits of money in lost stock. We were actually contacted by the bank that was overseeing the stock. The company stock that was orginally bought (in the 1960s by my grandfather) was sold and the stock was just sitting there gaining interest for many years. After several rounds of paper work and getting things notarized and paying about $1,200 in processing fees, we got the money last summer. (My fiance is a lawyer and throughly background checked everything so we knew it was legitimate. So I do not… Read more »

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