Don’t Forget Your Unclaimed Money (Part 1)

By Robin Kemker, Epoch Times
September 20, 2010 4:02 am Last Updated: October 1, 2015 7:00 pm

Safety deposit boxes. (Courtesy of Diebold Incorporated )
Safety deposit boxes. (Courtesy of Diebold Incorporated )
Do you remember that semester you graduated from college and married, then left town for your first job?

So many things were happening and so many things forgotten. Several years later you think back, “What ever happened to my grandmother’s diary and marriage ring in that safe deposit box? What about our state tax refund… and the utility deposit, where did they all go?”

The paragraph above may jog some memories among our readers. These situations occur more often in the current economy because of bank mergers, employment and family changes, than most people may realize.

Obviously, taking time to close accounts, safe deposit box rentals, and providing forwarding addresses to institutions and other businesses where you have deposits, prepaid pending orders, etc., is important.

Where Do Your Funds and Valuables Go?

What happens to things you left behind—that utility deposit, or a deceased relative’s forgotten safe deposit box? When and under what circumstances will valuables be sold or taken by an institution or a federal agency?

All states have “unclaimed property” laws and departments. This is to protect the property interests of people that have property in their state.

Unclaimed (sometimes referred to as abandoned) property refers to accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity generated or contact with the owner for one year or a longer period. Common forms of unclaimed property include savings or checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler’s checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders, or gift certificates (in some states), insurance payments or refunds and life insurance policies, annuities, certificates of deposit, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, mineral royalty payments, and contents of safe deposit boxes. Unclaimed Property does not include real estate.

According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUP) , “Claims can be made into perpetuity in most cases—even by heirs.”

Businesses should also consider these issues, because state laws require businesses to forward unclaimed property to their respective state’s Unclaimed Property division.

What happens with jewelry or other hard assets in safe deposit boxes? In some states, the unclaimed property administrator may convert property to cash if it is prudent to do so. Other items having only intrinsic or personal value will be stored in a vault or other secure repository until claimed.

According to the NAUP, the combined value of U.S. federal and state unclaimed property is $32.9 billion. In 2006 alone, $1.75 billion was returned to their rightful owners. However, that same year business accounts alone grew by $4.7 billion where contact with the property owners was lost.

There are waiting periods before a bank, utility company, former employer or other institution declares your money or asset “unclaimed property” and transfers it to the state.