QUESTION: A while ago I read an article about some online tools that can help people search for lost or forgotten money left behind by deceased loved ones, but I misplaced it. Can you help me with this? My mother, who passed away in January, always had a hard time managing her money, so I wonder if she left anything behind.
ANSWER: Forgotten or lost money is actually very common in the United States. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Managers, billions of dollars in unclaimed funds are deposited in state treasuries and other agencies just waiting to be traced.
These unclaimed funds come from accounts that are inactive or whose owners, or their heirs, cannot be found. Unclaimed funds may include items such as lost or forgotten savings or checking accounts, stocks, utility deposits, tax refunds, proceeds from a life insurance policy , uncashed dividend checks, matured savings bonds and more.
This usually occurs due to a change of address (the owner has moved), a change of name (the owner has married or divorced) or the death of the owner, and the estate was not aware of the money or the heirs could not be located. By law, businesses and financial institutions that cannot find the owner or their next of kin within two to five years must return the property to the state where it is held indefinitely.
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About 10% of all Americans have unclaimed money waiting to be found, so it’s possible your mom had some too. To begin your search, go to Unclaimed.org, which has links to all state programs that will allow you to search state benefits online for free. Or you can do a multi-state search in 39 states on MissingMoney.com.
Check every state in which your mother lived, worked, or did business. Also check under your mother’s maiden name, and if she had a frequently misspelled name, look for those misspellings as well. Using his initial and last name is also encouraged to make sure everything shows up.
Each state can tell you right away if your mom has unclaimed money, and how to get it back.
In addition to state treasuries, other resources can help you find unclaimed money that may have been overlooked.
Forgotten retirement benefits: To search for lost or forgotten 401(k) funds your mother may have left with a former employer, use the National Unclaimed Retirement Benefits Registry at UnclaimedRetirementBenefits.com. Or to search for lost pension benefits, use Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp’s trust plan search tool. at PBGC.gov/search-trusteed-plans.
Lost life insurance: To find a lost or forgotten life insurance policy, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, an insurance regulatory support organization, offers a free policy locator service at https://eapps. naic.org/life-policy-locator.
Non-reimbursed savings bonds: It is common for people to lose track of US savings bonds as they are often given to children as gifts and then forgotten about before the bonds reach maturity. To find out if your mother had any, the US Department of Treasury provides an online search tool at TreasuryHunt.gov to find matured, uncashed savings bonds that are over 30 years old and no longer paying interest.
Federal tax refunds: Each year, thousands of refund checks totaling millions of dollars are returned to the IRS by the post office. To search for lost federal tax refund checks, go to IRS.gov/refunds or call (800) 829-1954.
Jim Miller is editor of Savvy Senior. Send your senior questions to Savvy Senior, PO Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.