There’s nothing like the little thrill of finding a few crumpled dollar bills in the pocket of a jacket you haven’t worn in a while. You might have more cash you forgot about waiting for retrieval — all it takes is a quick search online.
Each US state, plus Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Kenya, and several provinces in Canada, keeps a record of unclaimed property that people can then collect. Unclaimed properties are assets and money people forgot they had — like uncashed checks (often a final check from an employer), money in old checking or savings accounts, refunds, security deposits, or the contents of a safe deposit box. About one in seven Americans has unclaimed property, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
For example, if you didn’t give a former landlord a forwarding address for your security deposit and didn’t deposit the check for an extended period of time — usually three to five years, depending on the state where you live — that money becomes “unclaimed.” The asset is then turned over to the state until you claim it. The state will hold onto the money until it’s claimed by you, or in the event of your death, your heirs.
“In the state of Colorado [the money is held in] a trust fund,” says Colorado State Treasurer Dave Young. “We hold the money or safety deposit box contents in perpetuity.”
How to claim missing money
You can check to see if you have any unclaimed property by searching your name, or former names, on MissingMoney.com, which is managed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. (The average claim value is just over $2,000, per MissingMoney.com.) The results may include hundreds of entries for people with the same or similar names, but you should only attempt to claim assets that are associated with addresses you’ve had in states, provinces, or even countries you’ve lived or worked in. Businesses and nonprofits may also have unclaimed property.
“Somebody may be a US citizen, but may have lived for a time in one of the [Canadian] provinces, Puerto Rico, Kenya,” Young says. “Likewise, somebody may have come in here to live and is still working through a process of becoming a citizen or is under some kind of visa and has maybe gotten separated from their money.”
Searching for unclaimed property is free. Sometimes third-party companies will charge a fee to locate lost property, and these companies are legal. However, all information on unclaimed property is available at no charge online.
To claim an asset, click the “claim” button. You may be navigated to your state’s specific treasury website. You’ll need to prove your identity by providing your name, social security number, a copy of your ID, phone number, email address, and mailing address. You can claim assets on behalf of a deceased relative, but you’ll need proper documentation that shows you are the executor or administrator for your relative.
After the state reviews your materials, you might be asked for more information to prove your identity. If not, the state will mail a check for the amount you’re owed, usually within a few weeks. For claims larger than $1,000, you might need to provide a notarized claim form, Young says.
How to keep your money from going missing
In order to prevent your money from becoming unclaimed in the first place, make sure all your accounts — checking, savings, IRAs, etc. — are active by making deposits or withdrawals periodically. Make sure your contact information is up to date for these accounts as well.
Don’t forget to check MissingMoney.com at least once a year to see if any new assets have been added. “Don’t leave it behind,” Young says. “This is your money.”