Navigating the Maze of Websites and Sources
There are billions of dollars of unclaimed property in the United States. The types of property include stock shares and dividends, assets held by failed banks, benefits from terminated pension plans, income tax refunds, life insurance proceeds, government and VA benefits. All fifty states and the District of Columbia have Unclaimed Property Offices which act as custodians of the property in perpetuity until the owner comes forward to claim.
There are many websites offering access to proprietary unclaimed property databases for a fee. One such is unclaimedmoney.comwhich charges $11 for 30 days of access. In some states private companies can register to gain information about specific unclaimed property, and contact the owner offering to assist in locating the property for a fee. It is not necessary to pay a fee to a finder or to a processor.
MissingMoney.comis a good place to start. It maintains a database of nation-wide unclaimed property records with links to the unclaimed property offices in each state. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) represents the state unclaimed property officials, and endorses MissingMoney.com. Searching the database is free, and the records are updated monthly. States have unclaimed property laws that dictate how long companies can retain stock shares and dividends when there has been no contact between the corporation and a stock holder. Some states are quite aggressive in getting corporations to turn over unclaimed property because it is treated as part of the general state coffers until the owner claims it!
There are several federal websites that can assist in locating lost assets. TheFDIChas records of unclaimed deposits from failed financial institutions. Usa.govhas links for locating unclaimed property from the federal government such as credit unit shares, damaged money, various government benefits and FHA mortgage insurance refunds.
For international assets, try the NAUPAsite with links to Holocaust unclaimed property and unclaimed property offices in Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland.
If the issue is locating retirement benefits, there are federal and private options. The federal government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation(PBGC) maintains records on those entitled to benefits from a retirement plan that was terminated when a business closed. PBGC can pay government funds in lieu of the actual retirement benefit. The Department of Labor‘s website has a means to search for abandoned retirement plan benefits. The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefitsis a wholly owned subsidiary of PenChecks, Inc, a private processor of retirement payments. It can help former employees locate lost or forgotten retirement benefits.
If a life insurance policy holder left no record of the policy, the estate of the deceased policy holder can request MIB Solutionscan assist in locating a missing or lost insurance policy. The person applying must be the executor or administration of the estate, or surviving spouse or child, must pay the $75 fee and present a certified copy of the death certificate. MIB Solutions will only perform searches for deceased policy holders, but will send consumers an annual copy of their MIB consumer file for free. This file shows all life insurance applications made in the previous seven years.
It is possible to request an unclaimed refund from IRS. An employee may have had tax withheld but was not required to file a tax return, or someone may have been entitled to a refundable tax credit such as Making Work Pay or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Unlike the perpetual availability of some unclaimed property, application must be made within three years of the year of the tax refund in question.