Most of us can’t imagine simply losing track of money or property. But no matter how careful we are with our finances, it is possible for utility deposits, credit balances, unused gift certificates, bank accounts, and other types of funds (sometimes large!) to accidentally slip through the cracks. Across the country, there are billions of dollars in unclaimed property being held by the state and federal government, and fortunately, there are ways to locate this property and claim it. Estate administrators or family members should look for unclaimed property when a loved one dies to be sure that everything is included in the estate and goes to the intended beneficiaries.
What Is Unclaimed Property?
During certain common events—moves, marriages, divorces, or deaths—property can be unintentionally lost. A move results in a change of address and marriages or divorces sometimes involve name changes, and when a family member dies, the heirs or beneficiaries may not have complete knowledge of the extent or location of the person’s money and property. The business or other organization holding the assets may no longer have current contact information and may not know that the owner has died.
After several years (usually three to five depending on state law),—if the property, which is usually bank accounts, insurance proceeds, or other funds, has not been claimed, the business or organization is required by law to report it and turn it over to the appropriate state agency (typically, in the state of the owner’s last known address). The legal term for this transfer is escheatment. The amount of time after which the money or property must be transferred to the state may vary depending upon the type of property involved. For example, the unclaimed funds in a bank account may need to be turned over to the state after three years, but unclaimed wages or salaries may be handed over after one year. The state will then hold the property until the owner files a claim to obtain it.
How Can You Find Lost Money and Property?
There are some helpful places to look for unclaimed property held not only by the state government and also by the federal government. The U.S. government has identified several official sources you can check. In addition, the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators lets you perform searches for multiple states at a time or perform searches nationally and even internationally. If you uncover property owned by you or a deceased relative, you may need to send documentation verifying your identity, for example, a copy of your driver’s license, your social security number, or proof of your current or previous address.
Note: Legitimate asset locators can help you find the unclaimed property but may charge very high fees. There are also scams in which individuals contact victims asserting that the victim is entitled to valuable unclaimed property in an effort to obtain a fee or personal information without any intention of helping them obtain it. Check with your attorney before paying any fees or signing a contract with anyone who claims to be an asset locator.
How Can This Affect My Estate Planning?
Part of estate planning involves creating a comprehensive list of all of your money and property. This inventory enables you to consider who you would like to receive your money and property and how it should be distributed, and it also ensures that none of your accounts end up as unclaimed property. Review and update your inventory on a regular basis with your estate planning attorney.
What If the Owner has Passed Away?
Because so many people have unclaimed property, the personal representative of an estate should check with the appropriate state agency to ascertain whether the deceased person had any unclaimed property which has been turned over to the state.
The trustee, executor, administrator, or personal representative appointed by the probate court or an heir can file a claim for any money or property on behalf of the deceased owner’s estate. As in the case of an owner who is claiming his or her own property, the personal representative or heir will need to provide the owner’s death certificate and a claim form, plus one or more of the following:
- a letter or certificate of qualification from the probate court
- photo identification
- proof of the estate’s federal tax identification number if one was required
- the owner’s obituary if the owner died without a will; proof the will was probated if the owner died with a will
- proof of the owner’s address if the property being claimed did not contain a social security number
- a copy of the court-ordered distribution of the deceased owner’s estate
- the owner’s will and/or trust agreement
State law varies widely regarding the requirements for claiming the property of a deceased owner. Check with your estate administration attorney if you need assistance compiling the necessary documentation. Even if an estate has already been closed, there typically is no statute of limitations that would preclude an heir from seeking unclaimed property belonging to a deceased family member even many years later. The heir must simply provide the required documentation to the state.
Contact Us Today
Create a strong estate plan to ensure that all your property will be distributed to the family members and loved ones you choose in the way you wish. Updating your estate plan to include property that you have recently acquired can help you avoid a situation in which it is never transferred to the appropriate beneficiaries because they are not aware of its existence. In addition, if your loved one has passed away and you need assistance administering their estate or finding lost property, we can help. Contact us to schedule an appointment.
You can schedule a call with us or reach us directly at 855.528.9637 to learn more about how best to plan today to protect those most important to you.