Have you ever received a letter from a company calling itself a “finder,” “locator,” or “heir finder" stating that there is money waiting for you and they’ll be happy to help you claim it- for a fee? You’re not alone. U.S. states are holding tens of billions of dollars of property waiting to be reunited with its rightful owners. According to the National Association of Abandoned Property Administrators (NAUPA), in 2011 alone agencies returned 2.5 million claims nationwide, for a total of $2.25 billion. That’s huge.
Where does this money come from? In both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, property that has been abandoned (not contacted by the owner for periods of three and five years, respectively) is held by the state until it can be claimed by its rightful owner. Property that’s been abandoned can be anything from bank accounts to refunds that you never picked up to paid-up life insurance policies or safety deposit boxes or even undeliverable IRS refunds. States have divisions dedicated to reuniting owners with their property.
If you are the owner of property that’s been abandoned, you can reclaim that property yourself - without paying a third party - by contacting the relevant state agency, filling out the appropriate forms, and providing the information the agency requests (usually to prove you’re the right person).
This becomes a little more complicated when the rightful owner has passed away. In many cases, claiming the property requires opening probate proceedings to locate the rightful owner’s heirs and distribute the property according to either their will or that state’s intestacy code.
In the law office, this often comes up when I’m counseling clients about probate avoidance (rule #1: don’t forget about any of your accounts (this happens more often than you might think)). It sounds far-fetched- it’s hard to imagine forgetting about your money- but it’s easy enough, over the course of a lifetime, to open a savings or investment account or purchase an insurance policy you then forget about. The average returned property claim in 2011 was for $893- a lot of money, but possibly small enough to forget about.
So how do you know if you are entitled to unclaimed property? Missingmoney.com is a great place to start, as it covers property nationwide. It’s always a good idea to search for property in every state you’ve lived in. In Massachusetts, you can also search at the Commonwealth’s Abandoned Property site.
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