Does Someone Owe You Money? How to Find Unclaimed Cash

( – It sounds like the start of a popular internet scam, but what if someone owed you a bunch of money, and all you had to do was claim it? Would you put in the time and effort to find and claim it? How much would it need to be worth?

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The reality is that as much as 10% of the adult population may have unclaimed property, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), which includes cash. Often, people lose track of funds through no fault of their own. But the good news is: You can recover your unclaimed property most of the time.

What’s Unclaimed Property and How Does It Happen?

Unclaimed property can be any payment you should have received but didn’t. Maybe a business could no longer find you because you moved and your forwarding address expired. You might have changed jobs, and your 401(k) didn’t change with you. An insurance payment you didn’t even realize you were getting back got lost in the mail. Your landlord didn’t return a damage deposit promptly and then couldn’t locate you.

Whatever the reason, and there are many more, time and circumstances separated you and your funds. Legitimate businesses don’t keep funds that don’t belong to them. Generally, most companies try to return funds or keep them for you to claim for a year — sometimes called a dormancy period. If they fail to return the funds by the end of that time, they turn them over to the state government where they operate. Most states hold the funds in trust, waiting for someone to claim them. A few states may limit how many years they keep funds in trust.

What Types of Unclaimed Property Are There?

Many types of unclaimed property exist, including intangible and tangible assets. Intangible assets might include items like uncashed paychecks, stocks, or refunds, to name a few. Tangible assets could include certificates of deposit or safe deposit box contents, for example. The most common forms of unclaimed property are:

  • Checking or savings accounts
  • Utility security deposits
  • Traveler’s checks
  • Uncashed dividends or payroll checks
  • Refunds
  • Insurance payments or refunds and life insurance policies
  • Unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states)
  • Customer overpayments
  • Contents of safe deposit boxes
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Stocks
  • Trust distributions
  • Mineral royalty payments
  • Annuities


How To Locate Unclaimed Money

One of the simplest ways to find unclaimed property is to use a search tool provided by NAUPA that searches multiple states for unclaimed assets. Alternatively, you would need to search each state’s database manually. The NAUPA search tool can save time. Other databases you might want to check include:

Once you’ve located unclaimed property, you can begin the claims process to recover your assets.

Filing a Claim

Now you know about surprise money or assets — it’s a windfall. However, you still need to go through the process of claiming it and proving ownership.

Each state will have its own procedures, but you’ll start by initiating a claim. Often, you can do this online as part of the property search.

Next, that state will likely ask you to provide proof of identity and ownership by asking for a series of documents. Take care to provide all the documentation they ask for to avoid delays.

After you submit your claim and the requested documentation proving your identity and ownership, the state will process the claim and verify the information. Depending on the state, this may take 30 or more days. Yet some states process claims in less than a month.

Upon the successful completion of the claims process, you’ll receive a check from the state in question for the amount of the unclaimed property (intangible property), or you may receive the actual property if the state held the contents of a safe deposit box in trust for you (tangible property).

Because so many people unknowingly have unclaimed property, it’s probably worth the effort simply to check periodically. Wouldn’t it be worth your time if you could find a nest egg you didn’t even know you had?

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