Believe it or not, the United States has billions of dollars in unclaimed assets. Sometimes also referred to as “abandoned property,” unclaimed assets refer to property or accounts within a financial institution or company where there has been no activity by (or contact with) the owner for longer than one year. After this so-called dormancy period, the law says these assets must be turned over to the state. Many times, they languish there for years without the owner even realizing.

Types of Unclaimed Assets

Abandoned property can take multiple forms. Oftentimes, it is intangible. For instance, it may be stock shares or a paycheck that was never cashed. However, it might also be something tangible such as a jewelry from a safe deposit box.

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, these are the most common types of unclaimed assets:

  • Bank accounts (checking or savings)
  • Stocks
  • Uncashed dividends
  • Uncashed paychecks
  • Tax refunds
  • Travelers checks
  • Trust distributions
  • Unredeemed money orders
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Overpayments (consumer products, utilities)
  • Utility security deposits
  • Mineral royalty payments
  • Safe deposit box contents
  • Insurance payments or refunds
  • Life insurance policies
  • Annuities
  • Mineral royalty payments

While this list is not exhaustive, it represents a majority of the unclaimed assets in the United States.

How Does this Happen?

Looking at the above list, it may strike you as odd that so many people abandon valuable assets. However, it can actually happen quite easily. Here is an example:

Michael rents an apartment in Cleveland, Ohio for three years before getting his dream job offer in Chicago. Upon moving, he changes his address on his bank account and credit cards and he believes he has checked all the boxes. Unfortunately, what Michael fails to do is provide an updated address to his former landlord in Cleveland. In his haste to move to Chicago and begin his new job, he completely forgets that his former rental company still owes him a security deposit. Without any forwarding address, they are unable to send him his $300 check. After one year – the dormancy period – of not hearing from Michael, the security deposit check becomes unclaimed property and the rental company turns it over to the State of Ohio.

What to Do if You Think You Have Unclaimed Assets

If you believe you may be owed unclaimed assets, visit the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrator’s website to find their state government search. Choose you state, enter your name and scan the list of results to determine whether there’s a match. This process is free, and it provides you with search results within seconds.

States are required by law to attempt to reunite people with their abandoned assets, and most offer user-friendly search portals related to their state departments of commerce. Don’t forget to search every state in which you have been a resident in the past. If you owned a business or operated an organization, you can also search for unclaimed assets related to those entities.

With billions of dollars of unclaimed assets on file, it pays – literally – to take the time to search. You never know, you may just find a tidy sum you had completely forgotten about.

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