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  • Writer's pictureJohn J. Diak, CFP®

What Unclaimed Property Is and Why You Should Care

Did you know there are billions of dollars in unclaimed property in the United States? (1) As many as one in ten people have financial assets that have been abandoned, meaning they forgot to claim the asset, are unaware that the asset exists, or do not realize they are the rightful owner.

Examples of commonly unclaimed property include bank accounts, safe deposit box contents, paychecks, pensions, dividends, stocks and bonds, mutual fund accounts, life insurance proceeds, trust funds, escrow accounts, insurance premiums, rental deposits, overpayments, federal and state courts, tax refunds, and more.

The company or institution is not permitted legally to retain the property, so they must either give it to the rightful owner or turn it over to the state. It may seem strange for money to be floating around out there that belongs to you, but you might be surprised. A long-forgotten loose end by an old employer, landlord, bank, or other entity could lead you to a few hundred dollars or a small fortune in unclaimed property.

The money owed to you may not be substantial, but you should find and claim what is yours.

How Does Property Become Unclaimed?

Property becomes unclaimed for a number of reasons. In many cases, the owner simply forgot about it and moved on without giving it a second thought. In other cases, the owner passed away, and nobody knew about it.

But perhaps the most common scenarios can be traced to missed communications or records that haven’t been updated. For example, when an employee leaves a job, it’s not uncommon for their final paycheck to fail to reach them, which was especially true prior to the widespread adoption of direct deposit. Another common occurrence is for a landlord or property management company to owe a tenant a refund on their deposit, but without a forwarding address or contact information, the funds are never claimed.

Often, particularly if the amount is small, the company makes minimal effort to track down the rightful owner because it can be difficult and time-consuming. The process is especially taxing for financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, with decentralized administration.

In short, because of the challenging nature of notifying owners, property often ends up going unclaimed.

How to Find Unclaimed Property

You will not find a central source to search for unclaimed money owed to you, but the good news is there are free sources of information and official databases that will assist you in your search. You may run into businesses that charge for a search or offer to send unclaimed funds, but these tend to be scams that you should avoid.

If you have no idea what unclaimed property you may have, you can begin by exploring a number of different paths. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators is a great place to start.

When a business can’t locate the owner, they are required to send money to state-run unclaimed property offices. So you can start your search with the state’s unclaimed property office in the states where you’ve lived or conducted business. From there, you can follow the state’s process for proving you are the owner and claiming the money.

If you think a former employer owes you money, search the Department of Labor (DOL) database to recover back wages or the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a U.S. government agency, to search for unclaimed pensions from companies that ended a pension plan or went out of business.

To locate unclaimed insurance money, you can search databases such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Finding money owed from banking and financial institutions requires first identifying the type of investment and then locating the correct database to search. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) keeps information on failed banks. The National Credit Union Administration holds information on unclaimed deposits. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) keeps records of money owed to investors. And these are only a few examples.

If you think you might have an unclaimed tax refund, check with the appropriate office. Each year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state revenue departments have millions of dollars in unclaimed refunds. Because refund checks are typically mailed to your last known address, if you have not set up a direct deposit, your check may have been returned to the IRS or state revenue department if you have not kept your records updated.

Claim What’s Yours

Most importantly, unclaimed property is money that is rightfully yours. If it seems unlikely that you have money owed to you, think again; there is a good chance you may find forgotten funds waiting for you. While locating it and claiming it may seem daunting at first, it’s often simpler than you might think. With a quick internet search, you will be well on your way to getting what should be rightfully in your possession.

John J. Diak, CFP® is the Principal & Client Wealth Manager at Oatley & Diak, LLC in Parker, Colorado. He assists clients through many difficult lifestyle changes such as business downturns, retirement planning, divorce, the death of a spouse, and family estate issues among others. Oatley & Diak, LLC is a family-run registered investment advisory (RIA) firm that provides clients with investment management and financial planning services in a hands-on, intimate environment. Learn more about them at

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

This material was prepared by Crystal Marketing Solutions, LLC, and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate and is intended merely for educational purposes, not as advice.


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