Searching for forgotten money
Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that there are resources available that can help people look for lost or forgotten money left behind by their deceased relatives. When my mother and father passed away, their financial affairs were in such a mess, I’m wondering if there was anything I overlooked. What can you tell me?
Lost or forgotten money is actually quite common in the United States. In fact, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, nearly $33 billion in unclaimed assets is sitting in state treasuries and other agencies just waiting to be found.
These unclaimed assets are from some 117 million accounts that are inactive or whose owners or their heirs cannot be located. Unclaimed assets can include things like lost or forgotten investments or bank accounts, Social Security payments, utility deposits, tax refunds, life insurance proceeds, stocks, uncashed dividends, and more.
This typically happens because of a change of address (the owner moved), a name change (the owner got married or divorced), or the owner dies and the estate was unaware of the money or the heirs could not be located. By law, companies and financial institutions that can’t find the owner or their next of kin within two to five years must turn the property over to the state, where it’s held indefinitely.
Where to Search
It’s very possible that your deceased parents, or you, have some unclaimed assets out there and you don’t even know it. To start your quest, go to missingmoney.com or unclaimed.org, both of which contain records from most state unclaimed property programs.
Check every state in which you or your parents have lived, worked, or conducted business. Also search using maiden names and any previous names, as well as middle names and middle initials. Every state can tell you immediately if your parents or you have some unclaimed property, as well as how to go about collecting it. If you don’t have a computer, you can call the state treasurer’s office for assistance.
Look Here Too
Beyond state treasuries, here are some other agencies you should check for lost loot, along with a few resources that can help you search.
•IRS: Each year thousands of refund checks totaling millions of dollars are returned to the IRS by the post office. To look for lost tax refund checks go to IRS.gov and click on “Individuals,” then on “Where’s My Refund,” or call 1-800-829-1954.
•U.S. Treasury: To find out if there are any savings bonds your parents didn’t claim dating back to 1974, go to treasurydirect.gov and click on “Check Treasury Hunt to see if you own matured savings bonds.” For older bonds or those still drawing interest, use form 1048, which you can download at www.treasurydirect.gov/forms/sav1048.pdf.
•Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.: If you or your parents worked for a company that went out of business or ended its defined benefit pension plan, you may be entitled to some of their benefits. Check at pbgc.gov and click on “Missing Participants Search.”
•The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits: To search for lost 401(k) plans, try unclaimedretirementbenefits.com, where plan sponsors, administrators, and custodians register missing participants who have unclaimed retirement funds.
•Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.: To search for unclaimed bank accounts at firms that were shut down between 1989 and 1993, go to www2.fdic.gov/funds. State treasuries hold assets from shutdowns after 1993.
•Social Security: To find lost Social Security benefits, including the $255 death benefit, call 1-800-772-1213.
•American Council of Life Insurers: If you think your parents had a life-insurance policy, try missingmoney.com, or for more tips go to acli.com and click on “Missing Policy Tips.”
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC “Today” show and author of The Savvy Senior book. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.
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