What is Unclaimed Property?
In a legal sense, lost and abandoned property is a category of the common law of property which deals with personal property which has left the possession of its rightful owner without having directly entered the possession of another person. In simpler terms, it is basically money or property that people forgot about. Unclaimed property can take many forms, such as:
- Unclaimed paychecks from a former employer
- Unclaimed insurance policies payouts from deceased relatives
- Security deposits from renters from houses or apartments
- Inheritance money or property that was never claimed
- Tax refund checks that we never cashed
- Contents of safety deposit boxes that were never picked up from the bank
- Money in dormant savings, checking, or money market accounts
- Brokerage accounts with stocks and bonds that were never closed after the individual passed away
Government Unclaimed Property Research Programs
Every U.S. state, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands – and Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta in Canada have programs that actively attempt to find owners of lost and forgotten assets.
Unclaimed property laws have been around since at least the 1940’s, but have become much broader and more enforced in the last 20 years. It is one of the original consumer protection programs.
What Do Private Detectives Need to Know About Unclaimed Property
Private detectives are often retained to conduct research into financial matters and to track down money that may belong to individuals. Private eyes should be familiar with the services provided by state organizations such as the Department of Revenue, State Treasury, State Controller, Comptroller and other financial administrators. Sometimes, the programs are administered by the Attorney General’s office or by the State Tax Commission.
If you received a phone call or letter from a firm that says they found money for you, it is important to take precautions to protect yourself. If the state is holding something of value in your name, and you are the rightful owner, you don’t have to hire anyone or pay a single cent to get it back. All you need to do is fill out the proper forms and follow procedures as described by the state agency or department that is in charge of the process. Once you submit the required forms and the appropriate proof, then all it takes is a few weeks of waiting.
However, there are legitimate firms that provide services to retrieve everything for you. They are usually familiar with the required process, know how to fill out the necessary paperwork, and where to submit it. These firms usually charge a “finder’s fee” in the form of a flat fee or commission. Sometimes, the commission is a percentage of the funds retrieved. Beware of companies that charge a high percentage. Since you are the one who owns the money or property, it shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg to get it back. It is up to you to decide whether or not it is worthwhile to have someone take care of everything on your behalf. Just be informed that it is not a difficult process to do it yourself.
For more information and to search specific states for property and money, please visit the following websites:
- National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) – This site is affiliated with the National Association of State Treasurers and also with www.missingmoney.com, which is the NAUPA-sponsored search engine. All states belong to the association, so the site also provides links to state registries, helping to streamline your search efforts. Individuals should search in every state they have lived.
- Learn how to check to see if property has been reported as stolen to the FBI database