It’s a long story how Matt and Jenny lost 5,000 shares of Texaco-Canada stock. But they did. They believed their money was well-invested when they relocated to the U.S.
They were unaware that when the company was sold to Texaco USA, all shares were liquidated and the proceeds returned to their rightful owners.
No doubt, a check was mailed to them, but by then they were long gone and their forwarding information had expired. So what happened to those funds? That’s what I set out to discover. And in the process, I discovered a lot more.
Matt and Jenny are not alone. From security deposits to expired gift certificates, insurance refunds to old bank accounts, and proceeds from class-action suits, Americans are missing out on billions of dollars simply because they are unaware.
Piles of money
Unclaimed property refund checks are often in the $800 to $1,000 range. Even so each year states return only 4 percent of unclaimed assets to their rightful owners. Most owners don’t know they have money coming and it is simple to find the money that the state or federal governments have for you to claim.
Unclaimed property is generally defined as any financial asset that has had no activity by its owner for a period of five years or more. This includes savings accounts, safety deposit boxes, checking accounts, uncashed dividends, stocks, customer deposits or overpayments, certificates of deposit, credit balances, refunds, matured life insurance policies, and uncashed death benefit checks.
For example, if you have ever moved without getting your utility deposit back or forgotten about an old checking or savings account, you are entitled to those funds. Banks, insurance and utility companies, landlords or brokerage firms cannot keep your money simply because they cannot find you or you fail to pick it up. Federal and state laws require that those funds be held in safekeeping until their rightful owners (you!) claim them or until the property is sold at auction.
Many states offer free online access to property databases and even online claim forms. To find that online do a simple google search, i.e. “unclaimed funds California.”
The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, (unclaimed.org) a nonprofit organization affiliated with the National Association of State Treasurers, is an excellent source of information on unclaimed property. You can access all states through their website.
Forgot your refund?
The IRS provides specific information on its website on how to obtain a past refund that remains unclaimed. You can also try its toll-free phone number, 800 829-1040.
Search for others
If the unclaimed property is not in your name, you must prove that you are the legal guardian or rightful heir to recoup it. That is not a difficult task.
More than $8 billion worth of matured savings bonds have never been cashed. You can bring your uncashed savings bonds to your local bank, which will cash them in for you. If you think you have lost a savings bond and have a record of the serial number, go to publicdebt.treas.gov to look up its status.
Also, bonds that are lost, stolen, mutilated, or destroyed can be replaced free of charge as long as the Bureau of the Public Debt can establish that the bonds haven’t been cashed.
Surprise! Look what I found!
While it required an attorney to locate Matt and Jenny’s stock sale proceeds, I did find $43.54 with their name on it, just waiting to be claimed. It seems the insurance company misspelled their street name so a refund was returned as undeliverable and eventually turned over to the State of California.
But that’s not all. In searching under the names of family members I found $85.90 for my husband’s parents (a refund that was mailed to an old address after forwarding information had expired).
Still more: I searched for myself and found a $125 insurance check that was returned as undeliverable because the sender failed to include our zip code. I have no idea the reason for this refund, but I’m not asking questions. I completed the simple claim form, sent in copies of identifying information, and received a check 5 days later.
A pile of money—large or small—just might be waiting for you to claim what is rightfully yours! Or to surprise someone you know and love. At the very least, it is rather enjoyable to go on a search.