Dear Savvy Senior,
A while back I read an article about some online tools that can help people search for lost or forgotten money left behind by their deceased relatives, but I’ve misplaced it. Can you help me with this? My mom, who passed away in January, was always bad about keeping up with her money, so I’m wondering if there was anything she left behind.
— Searching Son
Forgotten or lost money is actually very common in the United States. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, there are literally billions of dollars 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 like lost or forgotten saving or checking accounts, stocks, utility security deposits, tax refunds, life insurance policy proceeds, un-cashed dividend checks, matured savings bonds and much 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
About 10% of all Americans have some unclaimed money out there waiting to be found, so it’s very possible your mother had some, too. To start your search, go to Unclaimed.org, which has links to all state programs that will let you do a state benefits search online for free. Or you can do a multi-state search in 39 states at MissingMoney.com.
Be sure to check every state in which your mother lived, worked or did business. Also, make sure to check under your mom’s maiden name, and if she had a frequently misspelled name, search those misspellings, too. Using her first initial and her last name is also encouraged to make sure everything comes up.
Every state can tell you immediately if your mom has some unclaimed money, as well as how to go about collecting it.
Look Here, Too
In addition to state treasuries, here are some other resources that can help you look for unclaimed money that may have been overlooked.
Forgotten retirement benefits: To search for lost or forgotten 401(k) funds your mom may have left behind with an old employer, use the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits at UnclaimedRetirementBenefits.com. Or to search for lost pension benefits, use the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. trusteed plan search tool at PBGC.gov/search-trusteed-plans.
Lost life insurance: To track down a lost or forgotten life insurance policy, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, an insurance regulatory support organization, offers a free policy locator service at eapps.naic.org/life-policy-locator.
Unredeemed savings bonds: It’s very common for people to lose track of U.S. saving bonds because they are often given to children as gifts, then forgotten before the bonds reach maturity. To find out if your mom had any, the U.S. Department of the Treasury provides an online search tool at TreasuryHunt.gov for finding matured, uncashed savings bonds over 30 years old and no longer earning interest.
Federal tax refunds: 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.
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.