Could You Claim $50,000 in Lost Money?

Hands of four women hold up money.
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It sounds like a scam email, but it isn’t. You really might be missing thousands of dollars in lost money. In a moment I’ll show you exactly how to search for it, but first I have a true story for you…

Sharon Finn of Cranston Rhode Island says she had heard about the “Unclaimed Property Division” of her state government. But she never thought to check it to look for any lost accounts or money until recently. One day she got curious and went online to see what she might find.

She typed the names of some family members into the missing money database and noticed that there was an entry for her late brother. Apparently he had a forgotten life insurance policy. It took a few minutes to fill out forms, and she had to visit the state treasurer’s office with identification, but less than two weeks later Sharon Finn got a check for almost $50,000!

Most claims for lost money aren’t that big. In Rhode Island the average was $1,037 for 2013. But finding a $1,000 would be nice too, right?

When I checked recently, I found three entries for money owed to my father. Six years ago I checked online and saw that my mother had money held by the state of Michigan for an insurance policy refund that never made it to her. I told her about it and she collected about $900 for an hour’s work.

Every U.S. state, plus Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia, has unclaimed property programs. Three provinces in Canada do as well (Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta). Perhaps the odds are slim of finding money you’re entitled to, but you could be surprised. Consumer Reports notes that there are more than $1 billion in unclaimed benefits just from forgotten life-insurance policies. The chances are 1 in 600 that some insurance money is yours for the claiming — better odds than winning the lottery. And insurance policies are just the start.

Let’s look at some other forms of lost money that might be waiting for you:

  • Bank Accounts (Inactive accounts are turned over to the state, where the account holder or heirs can claim the money.)
  • Contents of Safe Deposit Boxes (Contents are often auctioned, and then the money is held.)
  • Utility Security Deposits
  • Uncashed Paychecks
  • Uncashed Dividend Checks
  • Unclaimed Trust Distributions
  • Unclaimed Refunds of Mortgage Insurance
  • Forgotten Retirement Accounts

Over $41 billion! That’s how much is held by state unclaimed property programs around the country. How much might belong to you?

You could pay a company to help you, but there really is no need. The process of locating and claiming your money is pretty straightforward in most states. So by now you must be wondering…

Where Do You Find Lost Money?

The databases for missing money and property are maintained by each state. But most states are members of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, also known as NAUPA.

Click on the map to get to the unclaimed property program for your state or province. The state websites are usually pretty easy to use. Some show whether the amount listed is under or over $100, while others require you to fill out a few forms to find out.

Another good place to check is Missing Money. This organization works with NAUPA to provide easier online searching. For the best results, search by full name and the state where lost accounts are most likely to be found. If you want to widen your net, search the entire country with just a last name. But only try that if it is an uncommon last name, because there are a lot of lost accounts!

Be aware that there are scammers who try to get you to pay upfront fees for unclaimed money they have supposedly located.  Some states allow legitimate companies to help you find and claim your money for a percentage. But you can do the minimal work required yourself, and you don’t have to pay to locate or claim your lost property.

Search your own name and the name of any relatives. You might even try searching all of your friends’ names just for fun, and to see if maybe you can call one up with a nice surprise. But be sure your friends at least buy you a drink if you locate any lost $50,000 insurance policies for them.

Your Turn: Have you ever filed a claim for lost money or property, or known anyone who has claimed lost money? Tell us your stories below…