Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that there are free online search tools that can help people look for lost or forgotten money left behind by deceased relatives. Can you refer me? When my father passed away his financial affairs were in such a mess, I’m wondering if there was anything he left behind.
Forgotten or lost money is actually quite common in the United States. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, there is around $42 billion in unclaimed funds sitting in state treasuries and other agencies just waiting to be found.
These unclaimed funds are from accounts that are inactive or whose owners, or their heirs, cannot be located. Unclaimed funds can include things lost or forgotten saving or checking accounts, stocks, utility security deposits, tax refunds, life insurance proceeds, un-cashed dividend checks, contents of safe-deposit boxes and more.
This typically happens because of a change of address (the owner moved), a name change (the owner got married or divorced), or the owner dies and the estate was unaware of the money or the heirs could not be located. By law, companies and financial institutions that can’t find the owner or their next of kin within two to five years must turn the property over to the state where it’s held indefinitely.
Where to Search
It’s very possible that your father, or you, have some unclaimed money out there and you don’t even know it. To start your quest go to Unclaimed.org, which has links to all state programs that will let you to do a state benefits search online for free. Or, you can do a multi-state search in 40 states at MissingMoney.com.
Check every state in which your father or you have lived, worked or conducted business.
Also, if you’re married, make sure to check under your maiden name as well. Using a first initial and your last name is also encouraged to make sure everything comes up. Every state can tell you immediately if you or your dad have some unclaimed money, as well as how to go about collecting it.
Look Here Too
In addition to state treasuries, here are some other agencies that can help you find unclaimed money.
IRS: Each year thousands of refund checks totaling millions of dollars are returned to the IRS by the post office. To look for lost Federal tax refund checks go to IRS.gov/refunds, or call 800-829-1954.
U.S. Treasury: To find out if there are any savings bonds your dad didn’t claim dating back to 1974, go to TreasuryHunt.gov. For older bonds or those still drawing interest use form 1048, which you can download at TreasuryHunt.gov/forms/sav1048.pdf, or call 844-284-2676 to request a form by mail.
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation: If your dad worked for a company that went out of business or ended its defined benefit pension plan, you may be entitled to some of his benefits. To look for lost pensions, use the pension-search tool at PBGC.gov/search/unclaimed-pensions, or you can call 800-400-7242 and get help over the phone.
National Association of Insurance Commissioners: To track down a lost or forgotten life insurance policy, the NAIC, an insurance regulatory support organization, offers a national policy locator service at Locator.NAIC.org.
PenChecks Inc. and Millennium Trust Co.: To search for lost or forgotten retirement benefits or 401(k) funds left behind with an old employer, go to UnclaimedRetirementBenefits.com and MTrustCompany.com/unclaimed-retirement-funds.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: To search for unclaimed bank accounts at firms that were shut down between January 1, 1989 and June 28, 1993 go to ClosedBanks.FDIC.gov/funds. State treasuries hold assets from shutdowns after 1993.
Social Security: To find lost Social Security benefits, including the $255 death benefit, call 800-772-1213.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.