I was always skeptical of those stories one hears about a forgotten relative and a pile of cash waiting to be claimed. It reeks of a con.
But a few weeks ago, a relative found an old life insurance policy from the 1940’s on missingmoney.com, a site that tracks unclaimed assets, and makes them easily searchable.
The policy was purchased for my relative’s husband at birth, but somehow it was forgotten over the years. 60+ years later, they received a check for $4200.
The principal paid on the policy was only around $750, but there was five times that much in interest. This particular policy was what is known as a “whole” life insurance policy, which can grow over time (unlike term-life policies).
Insurance claims are just one type of asset that can be found. Recent technological advances, along with better cooperation between state governments, have vastly improved access to these records.
In most U.S. states, unclaimed assets are transferred to state treasury depts after three years. Some remain in the hands of financial institutions, like banks and insurers.
To learn more about lost money, I contacted David Milby, who runs the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA).
He was nice enough to answer a few questions.
AS: Can you give us an idea of how much unclaimed money is out there?
DM: A total of at least $32 billion is currently being safeguarded by state treasurers and other agencies for 120 million accounts. Approximately $2 billion returned to the rightful owners each year from over 2 million accounts.
AS: Do you have any data on the average size of a successful claim?
DM: State agencies report that most claims are under $100 but of course there are exceptions where a person might be owed a relative’s life insurance policy or stock proceeds that can be tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can find out more on our website.
AS: Is there any statute of limitations, or time requirement for locating lost funds?
DM: Claims can be made into perpetuity in most cases — even by heirs.
Thanks to David for taking the time.
Readers should definitely check out their site, www.unclaimed.org. It’s a great tool for finding lost assets, along with missingmoney.com. And this section of IRS.gov offers yet another way to find lost money — in the form of unclaimed refund checks.
If you find something, let us know. It’s worth a look, no matter how unlikely you think your chances are.
There’s $32 billion just sitting out there, unclaimed — it’s a free lottery, with better odds.
Besides, it’s a great excuse to do some ancestral research. And remember to check those maiden names. I’d wager that maiden name mix-ups have been responsible for more than a few lost assets.
I’ve been doing some searching of my own, and will report back with any interesting findings. If I find something really good, though, you’ll probably never hear from me again. I’ll be on a beach in Fiji, and my iPhone will be sitting in a trashcan outside the local BB&T.
One warning: Steer clear of firms who charge fees for performing this type of research. There are plenty of free resources out there for anyone willing to do a little legwork.
Happy New Year!