BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
There's $33 billion of loose change lying under the cushions of sofas throughout the US. That's the total value of all unclaimed property held by governments across the country. Some may be yours.
Your Property: Forgotten but Not Gone
Much of the unclaimed property belonged to people long-since dead. We're talking unclaimed tax refunds, lottery winnings, and even stolen bicycles, boats, and cars. This property should go to heirs or next of kin. A lot of it though has just been forgotten by people still very much alive.
Property comes into the hands of a state administrator in a couple of ways.
First, property custodians are required by law to turn over property if they've lost contact with its owner. This can occur in as little as one year.
It sometimes happens that a worker quits a job without collecting a final paycheck. If the employer can't contact the worker it will, after the specified time period, transfer the money to the state.
It's also possible to forget financial assets. Small bank account and small stock holdings get turned over if you forget about them. If you change jobs it might be easy to overlook a small pension balance or a few shares of stock in an employee stock ownership plan. Your employer or the custodian will turn these over too if it can't find you.
There are just two problems for those entitled to unclaimed property:
- Finding it, and
- Getting it
Finding Unclaimed Property
Finding unclaimed property might be the easier, or at least faster, part of the puzzle to solve. There are a couple of websites to help you get started.
The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators has a website to get you started. It explains the problem of unclaimed property. It also links to each state's unclaimed property administrator.
Missingmoney.com goes a step further. It lets you search all the state sites at once. Just enter the name of the property owner and you're on your way.
Getting Unclaimed Property
Whether you have to find it first, or you already know where it is, getting unclaimed property turned over to you is another matter.
You can collect unclaimed property fairly easily once you remember you lost it. It gets trickier though trying to collect unclaimed property of someone who's died.
Proving Your Right to Unclaimed Property
- States restrict access to unclaimed property
- Access to unclaimed property varies by state and by bank or custodian
Generally you must prove:
- In the case of death, you must prove a connection between the deceased and the property. An account statement or even a phone bill will help
- The owner's death. You'll need the official death certificate for this
- Your relationship to the owner
Keeping Property from Falling Through the Cracks
A lot of property goes unclaimed through oversight or neglect. Here are a few tips to make sure you don't lose what's yours. Pay attention to life events. These are times when things change and you're apt to lose touch with property.
Moving . When you move, make sure everyone gets a change of address notification. That way tax and other refunds, security deposits and checks can follow you to your new home.
Changing jobs . You'll want your last paycheck and any retirement or employer stock to come with you. Confirm this in your exit interview.
Changing bank or checking accounts. If you've got direct deposit for pay, reimbursable expenses or other income, make sure the payors get your new 411.
Getting married or divorced. If your name changes, make sure everyone knows it.
Family member's death . This may involve sizeable property transfers. Making sure it's all accounted for and goes to the right beneficiary through and outside of probate usually means getting a good estate lawyer's help.
Waste Not, Want Not
It's a shame to waste anything of value. In this economy, getting what's coming to you can mean the difference between getting by and going broke.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What happens if two persons claim the same property?
- If the state gives unclaimed property I'm entitled to to someone else, what are my rights?
- If I locate the persons entitled to unclaimed property, am I entitled to a reward, bounty or payment for my effort?