Are there funds waiting for you to claim?

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Elliot Raphaelson

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), assets worth over $32 billion are held by various states just waiting to be claimed by their rightful owners.

You may be entitled to some of these assets. I will explain how this property ends up with the states, and how you can determine whether you have unclaimed property you don’t know about.

Unclaimed assets can come from any number of sources: uncashed dividends, refunds or payroll checks, savings and checking accounts, common stocks, traveler’s checks, trust distributions, uncashed money orders, life insurance proceeds, annuities, certificates of deposit, security deposits or safe-deposit contents.

State laws stipulate that under certain circumstances, financial institutions and other companies must turn over unclaimed assets to the state.

For example, you may have a savings account that has been dormant for three years (the limits will vary by state). The financial institution might be required to make a public notice identifying your name and the institution holding your assets.

If you do not see the notice and notify the financial institution, the bank will then have to turn the asset over to the state. After the assets are turned over to the state, no further interest will accrue.

Free access to databases

Meanwhile, the funds in the dormant account are listed in a database under your name. Periodically, states update their databases, which are available on the Internet. Anyone can access the state’s database, at no cost, and determine if there are assets being held in his name.

Let’s say you check your state’s database and see that the funds from your old bank account are sitting there, unclaimed. All you have to do is contact the department in charge (usually the state department of treasury) and supply the proof they ask for to claim the funds.

Several years ago, I was the executor of my aunt’s estate. I filed her will with the state’s probate office. She had detailed records, and I thought I had complete knowledge of her assets and beneficiaries. I distributed all the assets I was aware of.

Apparently, however, she purchased one certificate of deposit for $3,000 but did not name a beneficiary, and I was not aware of its existence. Her will stated that assets in her name would be shared equally by me and my two children.

A few years after she passed away, my son, Mark, did a search on Florida’s abandoned property website and found the unclaimed assets in her name.

We supplied the state with the information they required — a copy of the will, and the names and addresses of all the beneficiaries, with signatures. Within 30 days, the state sent us our checks. (Mark and I “invested” in the Kentucky Derby. Debra, the conservative one, is saving for early retirement.)

Claim at any time

There is no statute of limitation for claiming assets held by the state.

There are many ways for you to determine whether a state is holding assets that belong to you. You can go to a search engine on the Internet and type in your state’s name and “unclaimed property,” and the results will likely show the website for the relevant department in your state.

When you find your state’s website, there is no cost for you to enter your name and the names of your family members to find possible unclaimed assets. You may want to use different spellings of your name just in case errors were made in record keeping.

If you have lived in more than one state, you can use another free website: missingmoney.com, which contains information for multiple states.

NAUPA has its own website, www. unclaimed.org, which contains a great deal of important information regarding unclaimed property, the consumer-protection laws that benefit you, and links to state websites.

If you have been named as a beneficiary in a will or trust agreement by a relative or anyone else, you should enter his or her name on these websites to determine if there are any assets under that name that now belong to you.

With so many assets going unclaimed, it would hardly be surprising that some might belong to you. Next time you’re surfing the net, visit the websites I mentioned above and see. You certainly have nothing to lose.

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

© 2011 Elliot Raphaelson. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.