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Free Money: Tips For Finding Unclaimed Property

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“I have the best job in the world. I get to find people and give them back their money,” says Kelli Miller, Ph.D. She’s Deputy Treasurer, Unclaimed Property for the State of Nevada. I met her recently at the Women’s Money Conference where she was handing out checks to attendees. Headed by State Treasurer Kate Marshall, the agency she works for found over $14,000 (!) in unclaimed funds that belonged to those who registered for the two seminars that were held in Las Vegas and Reno.

While most of the checks were small, getting a check for money you didn’t even know was coming to you is not a bad way to end a money conference. And in Las Vegas, one lucky owner, Kat Burgess, got a check for $1700!

“We get funds from companies all over the world,” explains Miller. “It’s usually uncashed paychecks, utility deposits, bank accounts they forgot about, rebates, stocks and bonds.” Other sources of unclaimed funds include escrow accounts and life insurance proceeds. Treasurer Marshall’s program also receives safe deposit boxes from banks when they can’t locate the owner.

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Miller does make it sound like a fun job and she loves to share stories of some of the lucky recipients:

We recently found a citizen of Nevada $100,000. It was her grandchild’s education fund.  The bank had merged, then closed, and the funds were sent to the state. We were able to find her pretty quickly and return her funds.

A grandfather had savings bonds in a safe deposit box. Through Treasurer’s Marshall’s Operation Claim it!, we were able to track down his grandchild who was expecting his first child. (That would have been grandpa’s great-grandchild). They got $2700 to build a new nursery.

Another person had bought stock when he was in the service. He thought it was worth about $13,000. But since these programs are only allowed to keep stock for a certain amount of time, his stock had been sold at the height of the market. His check was over $800,000!

You can start your search for unclaimed property at MissingMoney.com, a website that allows you to search databases of participating states. As that website explains, data is refreshed and new unclaimed property is added weekly from participating states and provinces. So even if you’ve searched before, it may be time to take another look. Most states have two reporting periods of May and November, depending on the type of funds.

A few states do not participate in the MissingMoney.com website, including Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, and Wyoming. If you have lived in one of these states, you’ll want to check their websites directly. Remember there is no charge to return your funds to you!

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Don’t Forget Delaware

A tip: Miller suggests you check the Delaware unclaimed property website even if you’ve never lived there. That’s because many companies incorporate in Delaware and if the owner of the property cannot be located, the property may be held by the state in which the company was located.

Unclaimed property may include the contents of safe deposit boxes. If someone doesn’t pay for their safe deposit box for a year, she explains, the financial institution will drill the lock, inventory the contents, and store it the inventoried contents for two years. After that, it goes to the state of the box holder’s last known address. If that information isn’t available, however, it goes the state where the bank was incorporated. After that, policies may vary somewhat. In Nevada, she says, the department tries to return the contents, however, after two years the items are auctioned and the funds are held for the owner.

Free Credit Check & MonitoringCashier’s checks are especially troublesome for families. “The checks have a stale date limit,” notes Miller. “It’s not uncommon for someone to place a cashier’s check in a safe deposit box believing the check will be good forever.” After the stale date, the owner of the check will have to track down which state the check was reported. Depending on the age of the check, it may have gone to the state of incorporation. With the bank mergers and closings, it might be difficult to locate where the bank was incorporated. “In addition, they will have to produce the cashier’s check in order to claim the funds” stated Miller. So cash any cashier’s checks you may have sitting around!

Miller emphasizes that unclaimed property belongs to the owners. It doesn’t revert to the state if someone can’t find it, so there is no incentive for her department to discourage owners from making claims. “Treasurer Marshall has tasked us to return money so we do everything we can to help people claim their money,” she says.

You can also check in the names of relatives who have died. As long as you were in the will or part of the estate, you will generally be able to claim property belonging to family members who have died. “If it’s a small estate and there is no will then we can work with that,” Miller says.

So if you haven’t looked for unclaimed property that may be long to you, try again. You could get lucky. And you don’t even have to go to Vegas to cash in!

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Image: Daniel Borman, via Flickr

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