Have you ever wondered what it would be like to receive money that your weren’t expecting? Finding an unexpected $20 in a jacket pocket is always nice, however, what if you found $1,000 or more? It is quite possible that you may have funds available to you, that you are not aware of.
States are currently holding approximately $42 billion in unclaimed property from abandoned bank accounts, safe deposit box contents, stocks, uncashed dividend or payroll checks, bonds, mutual funds and utility security deposits, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. The accounts have had no activity or contact with their owners for a year or more (dormancy period).
There are many free and easy ways to search to see if you have unclaimed money. All of these services can be accessed directly and at no cost. There is almost never a good reason to pay a service to locate money for you.
To your happy returns!
If there is another resource out there to help locate unclaimed property, please let me know so that I can add it to this search list.
Unclaimed Property Search Checklist. This checklist will help you organize your search. The checklist covers the main resources for searching for unclaimed property (missing money) with links to each resource and include your results (and notes). Join the Get Ready Financial Preparedness club to access the checklist (free registration here)
- Keep all your financial records in one place. This will help your family be able to locate all of your information without having to conduct a search.
- Compile a list of accounts. Complete the GET READY! Planner and assemble a GET READY! Binder. You can download complimentary, fillable PDF worksheets (here).
- Cash all checks promptly upon receipt.
- Utility deposits. Generally, when you’ve been current with your utility payments for at least one year, you may either receive your deposit back automatically or you can request it. Add to your financial calendar.
- Dividends. Track your expected dividends on a financial calendar. If they don’t come when expected, follow-up.
- Final paycheck. Your final day of work may fall on one of the first days of a new pay period, which means you would receive two paychecks. If your company will be mailing your final check(s), be sure they have your current address.
- Communicate. Talk with your family about your financial life (see this article).
- Estate plan. Create an estate plan to dictate how your assets will be distributed upon your death.
- Major life events. Notify your bank, broker, credit card issuers, employer, 401K administrator, insurance contacts, mortgage lenders, doctors, attorney, accountant, investment accounts, and others of your name changes due to marriage, divorce or other legal action.
- Moving. If you move, it will be easier to update all of your financial service and product providers if you have a list of all of your accounts ready to go. This includes notifying your employer, retirement plan administrator(s) and all employer sponsored insurance plans including health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance and disability insurance. Your employer is not responsible for making these changes. If you are waiting for a refund, be sure to notify the IRS as tax refunds are not forwarded. The U.S. Post Office change of address service is only valid for one year and will probably miss some correspondence.
Finding lost or unclaimed funds can be like finding a needle in a haystack. There is no central database for all lost & unclaimed property, let alone a specific type of property such as life insurance. The following are 8 steps to get started on looking for unclaimed property (missing money):
- Search. Looking through financial records such as bank statements, credit card statements, investment accounts and insurance policies is a good way to find information about different accounts. Monitor incoming mail. And be sure to check any safe deposit boxes or other storage place.
- Contact Advisors. Look for advisors in address books (physical and digital) that might have knowledge relevant to your’s or your family member’s financial life. This includes financial planners, insurance agents, bankers, accountants, attorneys, employers and business partners.
- Tax returns. Old tax returns may contain information relevant to investments, bank accounts and other financial products. Review two years of tax returns. Look for capital gains (losses), interest income and dividends.
- Financial Service Company. If you recall having an account or that your family member mentioned a company, you can always call them and ask if there are any accounts. You may need an official document such as a power of attorney or will or trust stating that you are authorized to get this information.
- Previous employers. Former employers will have records of past retirement plans and group insurance policies. Check with the personnel/human resources office.
- Military benefits. Check with the Department of Veteran Affairs.
- Mail. Monitor the mail for a year. You’ll want to check mail for at least one year, in case a financial service or product only sends out an annual statement.
- Associations and membership groups. Insurance policies and sometimes other financial products may be obtained through associations or othr membership groups.
If you find unclaimed property, you’ll need to file a claim. Each source will have its own procedure, so be sure to read the instructions carefully. You’ll also usually need to provide documentation including a drivers license (or other official identification), address verification (such as a utility bill) and proof of ownership (if applicable).
Note: These services are free. You will not ever be required to pay any type of fee. Companies may offer to find this money for a fee. And scammers may try to trick you with fake promises of money from the government.
Each State in the U.S. has an unclaimed property division. Every year states receive lost and unclaimed money, property or other assets. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website (www.unclaimed.org) provides links to unclaimed property divisions in each state.
The NAUPA also sponsors a search engine at the missingmoney.com . Start your free search here for bank accounts, safe deposit box contents, uncashed checks, insurance policies, CDs, trust funds, utility deposits, stocks and bonds, wages and escrow accounts. If you get a result, claim the property and fill out the requested details, then submit and you will receive instructions on next steps from the state where you made the claim. Participating states regularly update the assets they have, so check back often.
Unclaimed property laws are in place to protect private property from being drawn down by service or storage fees, lost during mergers or bankruptcies, or hoarded unlawfully by the business to use for its own purposes.
Tip: Check every state in which you have lived or worked.
Here is a list of every state’s unclaimed property office (click on the state name):
Alabama , Alaska , Arizona , Arkansas, California ,Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, , Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho , Illinois , Indiana , Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky , Louisiana , Maine , Maryland , Massachusetts , Michigan , Minnesota , Mississippi , Missouri , Montana , Nebraska , Nevada , New Hampshire , New Jersey , New Mexico , New York , North Carolina , North Dakota , Ohio , Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico , Rhode Island , South Carolina , South Dakota , Tennessee , Texas , Utah , Vermont , Virginia , Washington, Washington D.C., West Virginia , Wisconsin, Wyoming.
Note: missingmoney.com is the only multi-state unclaimed property site endorsed by the NAUPA and can be a good place to start your search.
- Closed bank accounts. These may have unclaimed funds from a variety of sources such as insurance premium refunds, utility or phone account deposits, dividend payments, escrow accounts, or wages owed to you by a former employer. Use the links to the appropriate state’s unclaimed property office (above).
- Bank failures. The FDIC is often appointed as receiver for failed banks. On the FDIC site, you can find useful information on the acquiring bank (if applicable), how your accounts and loans are affected, and how vendors can file claims against the receivership (here). For more information on individual bank closings, how accounts and loans are affected when a bank fails, how to claim unclaimed funds from bank failures, and how to file a claim or obtain a lien release, (go here).
- Credit Union failures. When a credit union with federal insurance is liquidated, the NCUA's Asset Management and Assistance Center is responsible for paying the share accounts to the members.On rare occasions, the liquidation of a credit union may result in surplus funds. If a surplus remains, a distribution to the shareholders is required. This may occur several years after the credit union is liquidated and it is sometimes difficult to locate these members. If you believe the NCUA may be holding funds for you, you can check their Unclaimed Deposits Listing (here).
- Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO). The HCPO works as a bridge between claimants and the various international compensation organizations and/or the current holder(s) of the asset be it a bank account, insurance policy or artwork. Claimants pay no fee for the HCPO’s services, nor does the HCPO take a percentage of the value of the assets recovered. The program is run by the New York State Department of Financial Services and is available to all (you do not need to live in New York). Learn more here.
- Jewish property lost during the Holocaust. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc. disburses funds to individuals and organizations personally impacted by the Holocaust (e.g. survivors, not heirs). Learn more here.
- Swiss Bank Dormant Assets. Victims of the Holocaust or their heirs can make claims to assets deposited in Swiss Banks during World War II. You can find information regarding dormant assets held at Swiss banks, for which the last customer contact was at least 60 years ago and the value of which is above CHF 500 or is unknown (here).
If you bought a home with a FHA-insured mortgage, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development may owe you refund. Check the HUD website (here).
- Enforcement cases. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) lists enforcement cases where a company or person owes investors money (here).
- The Securities Class Action Clearinghouse (SCAC) provides detailed information relating to the prosecution, defense, and settlement of federal class action securities fraud litigation. View the database here.
Read: The SEC’s Investor Bulletin: How Victims of Securities Law Violations May Recover Money (here).
Unclaimed life insurance exceeds $1 billion in benefits according to a 2013 study by Consumer Reports. It is estimated that 1 in 600 people are the owners of a misplaced, forgotten or otherwise unclaimed life insurance policy. The average unclaimed life insurance benefit was $2,000, with some payouts reaching $300,000. This works out to about 1 in 4 life insurance policies issues.
Common reasons are that people may not realize that they are the beneficiary or that a policy has continued to be in-force after they discontinue premium payments. Cancelled insurance policies may have a non-forfeiture option which creates a residual value. And, sometimes people simply forget about an old life insurance policy.
There are hundreds of life insurance companies selling life insurance along with hundreds that sold life insurance in the past and no longer do so. While it may seem like finding a lost life insurance policy would be similar to finding a needle in a haystack since there is no central database, there are some resources to help you. Here’s how to look for unclaimed or lost life insurance. All of these options are free except for the MIB service, so you do not need to pay anyone a fee to help you.
- Insurance Company. If you have located information that leads you to a specific insurance company, such as an old statement or cancelled check, then approach the company directly. You’ll want to have as much information as possible when you contact the insurance company including the insured’s full legal name, social security number, date of birth and hopefully, policy numbers. Keep in mind that many people have life insurance policies with multiple companies. For insurance company contact information, do an internet search for insurance company name + policy holder services. Some insurance companies have their own lost policy finders which can be found on their website.
- The National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s policy locator service. Over its first two years, it connected 24,934 consumers with $368 million in life insurance benefits. When a request is received, the NAIC will ask participating companies to search their records to determine whether they have a life insurance policy or annuity contract in the name of the deceased and for the companies to respond to the requester if the requester is the designated beneficiary or is authorized to receive information. The life insurance policy locator service is here.
- State unclaimed property office (see above). If a life insurance policy has value, it will be turned over to the state after a certain length of inactivity. The time period varies by state. Be sure to check in the state where the policy was purchased (or you think it was purchased. You can search by policy owner name and beneficiary. If you are searching for a cash value, search by policy owner name and if you are searching for a death benefit, then search by beneficiary name.
- State Insurance Department Locator Services. Some state insurance departments have started their own policy locator services. These are for use by consumers who believe they are the owner or beneficiary of a life insurance policy purchase in that state. The insurance department will submit a request to have life insurance companies located in the state to check their files. Here’s a list of most of the states that have locator services (if your state is not listed below, you should still check the state insurance website - go here for links to each state insurance department).
- Employers/Former Employers. Many employers offer group life insurance as benefit to their employees. As employers are usually considered the policy owners, you’ll need to check with former employers rather than the insurance companies. Policies generally provide coverage during the term of employment, however, sometimes coverage is continued. Contact all former employers human resources or benefits department. You can make a list of all memberships and associations using the GET READY Table.
- Associations and Membership Groups. Many membership groups and professional associations offer insurance benefits either as a free benefit of membership or as a separate paid policy. These are usually group insurance policies, so you will need to contact each association and membership group directly. You can make a list of all memberships and associations using the GET READY Table.
- Financial Institutions. Many banks and credit card companies offer a limited amount of life insurance as a free benefit. These are usually group insurance policies, so you will need to check with each financial institution or look through that account’s DOCUMENTS. You can make a list of all memberships and associations using the Memberships/ Clubs and Organizations Table from GET READY!.
- Demutualized Insurance Companies. If there was a life insurance policy with a mutual insurance company that demutualized, policy holders and heirs are entitled to receive whatever policy benefits are due along with any stock, cash or policy credits offered in exchange for ownership interest in the old mutual insurance company. You can start your search at demutualization-claims.com. Note that this site has not been updated in years, so the information is not current. Here is a partial list of major life insurance companies that demutualized: American Mutual Life/Amerus, Anthem WellPoint, Central Life Assurance, Equitable/AXA, General American Life, Indianapolis Life, John Hancock Life, ManuLife/Manufacturer’s Life, MetLife/Metropolitan Life, MONY/Mutual of New York, Mutual Service Life, Nationwide/Allied Mutual, Northwestern/Reliastar, Phoenix Home Life, Principal Mutual, Provident Mutual, Prudential Life, Standard, State Mutual/Allmerica, Sun Life/Clarica and Unum Mutual/Unum.
- VA Life Insurance. If you are a veteran or the heir of a veteran, you can
search the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for unclaimed insurance funds that are owed to certain current or former policyholders or their beneficiaries. Go here to search for VA Life Insurance Funds. Note: This does not include funds from Service members’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) or Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) policies.
- MIB policy locator service. MIB, formerly Medical Information Bureau is a cooperative database for life insurance companies to keep track of life insurance applications. The service is limited to individual life insurance policies issued after 1996 to member companies with a death benefit over $100,000. Therefore, a lot of life insurance policies including group life insurance (through an employer) and most military life insurance will not be included. MIB does charge a $75 fee, so this is only recommended if you are fairly certain that a policy fits the criteria to be included in their search. Learn more about the MIB Policy Locator Service. Important Note: Consumers can order their own MIB report for free. However, these reports are limited to applications in the last seven years to an insurance company that is an MIB member. So in terms of finding a lost policy, this report will have limited usefulness, however it is free. Here’s how to request your MIB Consumer File.
- Advisors. Check with insurance agents, financial planners, accountants and estate planning attorneys that worked with the deceased. Even if they were not directly involved with a life insurance policy, they may still have information such as company name and policy number.
Insurance Company Name Changes. Over the years many insurance companies have changed their names or have been purchased by other insurance companies. A.M. Best’s can help you track down the current name of the life insurance company (visit the Best’s Consumer Center). You can also check with the Insurance Department in the State where the policy was purchased.
Defunct insurance companies. If the insurance company went out of business, the state insurance commissioner should have records on what happened to the policies. Go here for links to each State Insurance Department.
Life Insurance Legal Settlements. Over the last few years, states have audited life insurance companies revealing an industry-wide practice of companies failing to pay death benefits to the beneficiaries of life insurance policies, despite having access to federal records indicating that policyholders had died, or direct confirmation from relatives of the deceased. Instead, some companies would continue collecting premium payments from the deceased by drawing down the policies' cash reserves. Once the cash reserves were depleted, the company would cancel the policy. Over 40 states have settled with 25 insurance companies who’ve agreed to restore $7.4 billion, as of April 2016. The companies that settled included AIG, Allianz, American Financial, American National Insurance Company (ANICO), Aviva, AXA, Forethought, Genworth, Guardian, Hartford, ING (now VOYA), Jackson National, John Hancock, Lincoln National, MetLife, Midland National, Nationwide, New York Life, Northwestern Mutual, Pacific Life, Penn Mutual, Prudential, Standard, Symetra, Sun life, TIAA-CREF, Transamerica and Western & Southern. You can find links to the settlements with California and contact information for residents of all states here.
Over the years, most of us will have worked for multiple companies. Occasionally when people change jobs, they leave. Behind a balance in a previous employers retirement account which is oftentimes forgotten.
- 401(k)’s and Other Retirements accounts. How do I find a 401(k) from a prior employer) If you have unclaimed retirement plan funds from a previous employer, that money is a protected benefit and must be held by the employer or a third-party custodian, such as PenChecks Trust, until you claim it. The National Registry provides a safe, secure and easy-to-use platform for plan sponsors to use and former participants to search for any unclaimed retirement benefits. If a former employer has listed you in our database, your name will show up when you search, enabling you to contact the employer or PenChecks Trust and claim your funds. To find your funds visit the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits (here).
- Abandoned Plan Search. If your former company no longer exists or your plan has otherwise been terminated, your retirement funds will be held in trust. The U.S. Department of Labor has an Abandoned Plan Database where you can find out whether a particular plan is in the process of being, or has been, terminated and the name of the Qualified Termination Administrator (QTA) responsible for the termination (go here to do an abandoned plan search).
- Pensions. Across the country, there are more than 80,000 people who haven't claimed pension benefits they are owed. Those unclaimed pensions equal a total of over $300 million dollars, with individual benefits ranging from twelve cents to almost a million dollars. Claiming your pension is easy, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation offers an interactive tool for people who may have lost track of a pension earned during their career. Go here to search for your unclaimed pension.
- Failed Pension Plans. If your pension plan has failed, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation may be acting as the trustee. Go here to search the PBGC Trusteed Plans database.
- Railroad Retirement Plan. Railroad worker’s have their own retirement pension plan administered by the Railroad Retirement Board. Railroad employees, family members and survivors can learn more Search for unclaimed railroad retirement benefits (here).
You can file a claim for Lost, Stolen, or Destroyed United States Savings Bonds with the FS Form 1048 (here). The Treasury Hunt service has been discontinued.
- Federal Taxes: Does the IRS owe you money? If you earned income in the last few years but you didn’t file a tax return because your wages were below the filing requirement, the Internal Revenue Service may have some money for you. The IRS also has millions of dollars in checks that are returned each year as undeliverable. Go here to see if the IRS has money waiting for you.
- State Taxes. As with Federal Taxes, state tax refunds also go unclaimed or undeliverable. Go here for links to your State’s Revenue department.