According to the document, “The Unclaimed Property Rage”, by Mark Kantrowitz, most unclaimed property becomes abandoned as a result of three events. The first of these events is the change of address of the owner. That is, if the owner of the property has moved and left the property behind, it can be considered unclaimed. The second method by which property may become abandoned is through the changing of the name of the owner. If the owner gets married, or divorced, or legally changes his or her name for any other reason, assets attached to his or her name may become lost, or abandoned.
The final mechanism by which most unclaimed property comes into being is through the death of the owner, particularly if the owner’s estate or heirs were unaware of the property’s existence, or the heirs cannot be located. There are many ways by which an individual may “misplace” money or assets without even knowing it. One such way is if a person were to move from a rented or leased property without claiming a return of a security deposit. This money, which a person is entitled to, becomes lost to him or her.
Another way by which a person might “misplace” money is by failing to offer a forwarding address to entities that may owe them deposit monies, such as utilities or waste management services. A person may not be receiving dividend checks from stocks or mutual funds if the company in charge of distribution has an incorrect address. Changing banks is another way a person may “misplace” his or her money. When closing a checking account, for example, people often leave a bit of extra money behind to cover unknown pending transactions.
They then forget to collect the remaining balance. Similarly, while changing to a different bank’s services, an individual may neglect a particular account, or even a safe-deposit box that may contain assets. Another way to “misplace” money is to hold a certificate of deposit with a bank, and not claim it. If mailed notices are not responded to, the bank may declare the value of the deposit to be abandoned. It is possible for any individual to be determined to be an heir of a relative by a probate court.
Even if no will exists, money may survive multiple years of probate and be waiting for an individual who has no knowledge of their claim. Similarly, a relative may have died and left an individual as a beneficiary of insurance. The insurance company may have delayed payment for a long time for any number of reasons, and the company itself may have demutualized, and lost the correct forwarding information in the process. Finally, an individual may simply forget about money he or she is owed in some other context. Unclaimed property might consist of many different things.
As mentioned, it can be dormant bank accounts, either checking or savings, or abandoned safe-deposit boxes. It might consist of uncashed traveler’s checks, payroll checks, money orders or cashier’s checks. Unclaimed property may also be in the form of unused gift certificates. Another common source of unclaimed property is unclaimed assets such as oil and gas royalties, stock or mutual fund dividends, stock certificates or mineral deposit royalties. Such property can also include unclaimed deposit returns from utilities or courts.
Customer deposits, overpayments, refunds and credit balances may also become unclaimed property. The death of a relation can result in unclaimed insurance payments, probate judgments, or overlooked property in probate proceedings. Other sources of unclaimed property might come from paid-up life insurance, benefit checks from the government for death, accident and health insurance payments and unclaimed FHA or HUD refunds. Each state has its own rules as to what happens to abandoned property. Unclaimed assets become legally abandoned after three to five years of inactivity, depending on the state.
During this period, the holders of the property must attempt to return it to its rightful owner. If they cannot do so, the property must be turned over to the state’s abandoned property division, or unclaimed property office. Pursuant to Federal law, the property is returned to that state wherein the last known address of the owner resides. If that information is unavailable, it goes to the state wherein the business or entity who has the property is located. At that point, the state division or department of unclaimed property attempts to find the proper owners.
There is no time limit for retrieving unclaimed property. Many states have property claims that date back to the 1800s. Additionally, the death of the claimant does not end the search for a property owner, as relatives can file claims for the property after the owner’s death. Tracers are “professionals” who offer to find lost money for you in exchange for a percentage of the find. Often, all a customer will get from such an offer is the name and address of the relevant state’s division or department of unclaimed property.
If such a “tracer” contacts you, the best option is to simply contact the state’s office for unclaimed property itself. The states do not charge for the return of unclaimed property. It is further recommended by the author that, if you are informed of unclaimed property that belongs to you, you should check back with the state offices annually to see if it has come through. The author of the article also suggests that it is cheaper to simply send a post card to each state office an individual suspects might have unclaimed property belonging to them.