Don’t pay to recover unclaimed property

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Elliot Raphaelson

 

 

You may be contacted by a company informing you that you have unclaimed property held by state authorities. The company may tell you the property is available to you for a fee, such as 10 percent or more of the value.

But there is no reason to pay a fee to any entity without searching on your own first, which you can do easily and at no cost.

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administration (NAUPA), assets worth more than $35 billion are held by various states and can be claimed by rightful owners.

These assets are typically derived from sources such as savings and checking accounts, common stocks, uncashed dividends, refunds, payroll checks, trust distributions, travelers’ checks, uncashed money orders, life-insurance proceeds, annuities, security deposits, certificates of deposit or safe deposit proceeds.

Free online databases

State laws require that, under specific circumstances, financial institutions and other organizations turn over unclaimed assets to the state. For example, if you have a savings account that has become dormant (as defined by state law), the financial institution must turn the asset over to the state after a public notice is issued.

Every state maintains a free access database that identifies the owner of the asset. If you go to the NAUPA website (www.unclaimed.org), you can access the database. Another free website is missingmoney.com which contains information for multiple states.

I recommend that you use different spellings of your and your relatives’ names, in case of record-keeping errors. You will have to provide proof that the assets belong to you, but the process is not complex. There is no statute of limitations for claiming assets held by a state.

If you have been the beneficiary of an estate, access the database of the state of the decedent and enter the name of the individual who bequeathed you assets. The executor of the state may not have been aware of all the assets of the decedent, and some assets may have been turned over to the state.

For example, a relative of mine died, and members of my family, including me, were beneficiaries. Probate was filed, but it turned out that my relative owned a certificate of deposit without naming a beneficiary. The executor was not aware of that asset, and accordingly did not distribute the proceeds of that CD to the beneficiaries named in the will.

Subsequently, the asset was turned over to the state of Florida. A few years after the estate was settled, I accessed Florida’s database, entered the name of my relative, and determined that there was property turned over to Florida (the value of the CDs).

My relatives and I turned over the required information to the state — namely, a copy of the will — plus the names and addresses of all the beneficiaries, with signatures. Within 30 days we received the proceeds, which exceeded $3,000.

Find lost savings bonds

If you believe that you may have lost track of savings bonds you own, visit the Department of Treasury website TreasuryDirect.gov and use the feature “Treasury Hunt.” It will inform you whether you are the owner of a savings bond that has stopped earning interest but has not been cashed.

The site provides information regarding Series E and Series EE bonds issued in 1974 or later. You only have to enter your Social Security number. If you aren’t sure who the registered owner of the bonds is, enter the Social Security numbers of all members of your family.

There is no advantage in holding onto savings bonds that are no longer earning interest. If you had bonds that were lost or stolen, you can submit Form PDF 1048, available from the TreasuryDirect website.

Elliot Raphaelson welcomes your questions and comments at elliotraph@gmail.com.

© 2015 Elliot Raphaelson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.