Everything we leave behind must be redistributed among the living when we die. However, what happens if the residents can’t locate what we have left behind? What happens to forgotten bank accounts, retirement funds left inaccessible, unclaimed wages, and property with no deeds or paperwork? What happens to everything that is lost to time or lost amid a sea of poor financial planning and shoddy recordkeeping?
Many leave behind unclaimed inheritance money because their assets were not properly recorded or written into their will. Thankfully, in most cases, there is a relatively simple answer: the government gets to claim it. But an unclaimed inheritance is not automatically forfeited to state coffers. While the state does collect a lot of unclaimed wealth, it holds most of it in case a potential heir arrives and takes what is rightfully theirs.
There is no time limit on claiming an unclaimed inheritance after the death of a loved one, with one crucial exception: federal tax refunds. Aside from federal tax refunds, you have all the time to figure out where the inheritance money is. This is the case, whether it’s a few hundred dollars in a savings account or several thousand dollars worth of stocks that were put aside and forgotten.
What Counts as Unclaimed Inheritance Money?
Nearly any form of wealth, from bank notes to personal property, can become unclaimed in the event of a person’s death. A mismanaged estate, missing parcel during the probate process, or assets and property that no one was ever informed of – lost due to poor recordkeeping – can quickly go unclaimed.
Some things are genuinely lost or forgotten over time. If your uncle buried $20,000 in cash in 2007 for a rainy day and died without telling anyone where he buried the money or any cash, it might not be found for a long time. This unclaimed inheritance money can be retrieved once it is found.
When money is found, the proper thing to do is turn it over to the police. The money might even go back to the finder if it remains unclaimed. But without the prerequisite evidence and context of who it might have belonged to, there is no guarantee that an inheritance like that will ever find its way to its rightful heirs.
Most examples of unclaimed inheritances aren’t that fantastic, though. An unclaimed estate usually takes the form of a forgotten investment, a savings account no one knew about, or a small piece of property with a lost deed. Anything like that is ultimately tied to a company, organization, bank corporation, or government. Such unclaimed assets might include:
- Checking accounts
- Savings accounts
- Commission checks
- Individual retirement accounts
- Life insurance payouts
- Annuity contracts
- Tax refunds
- Pension benefits
- Stocks and bonds
- Corporate dividends
- Utility or security deposits
- And more.
If any of these things go unclaimed after a person’s death, it can take time before they are eventually found. The standard procedure for most unclaimed assets and accounts is to turn them over to the state after several years. Depending on the type of asset or property, unclaimed property may be escheated by the government in one to five years.
At that point, the bank’s or company’s responsibility is to turn the asset over to the government’s unclaimed assets division. States and counties have their systems and respective databanks for unclaimed assets. Each state has its ultimate authority for escheated assets and property, as well as its policies and timelines.
Your best bet at identifying the potential timeline for any unclaimed property in your loved one’s past is to go to the website of their respective states or residence and employment and inquire for more information. You will have to wait a few years for any unclaimed assets to appear in a state directory.
Contact Banks for Unclaimed Inheritance Money
If money is left unclaimed for years after someone dies, the state will take ownership of it. But you don’t necessarily need to wait that long. Suppose you know where your loved one was working and where they have kept their money over the years. In that case, you can call or contact local bank branches and employers with whom your relative was associated, ask about potentially unclaimed wages, unclaimed bank accounts, and so on.
In most cases, proof of death, your Social Security information, and proof that you are the next of kin would be enough to claim an inheritance. Doing the legwork this way can be tedious, and there is no guarantee that you will get to every potentially unclaimed asset. But it does have its benefits.
For one, banks tend to charge a fee on accounts that overstay their welcome and are subsequently escheated by the government. Waiting too long to retrieve unclaimed inheritance money from a loved one’s unknown savings account can cost you a portion of your potential estate (although the fee is usually minor and even more negligible if the account did not hold much, to begin with).
Escheated By the State
Once your unclaimed inheritance is moved into state coffers, it will be listed on a database of unclaimed assets and property. This database is a national resource for individuals to look up potential assets to claim and access a list of unclaimed assets. This website is maintained by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). Alternatively, you can also check out Missing Money, which allows you to search the unclaimed asset directories of all states except:
Other resources to help you locate unclaimed assets and wealth include the IRS, the PBGC, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Savings Bonds, and more. An important tip is to try your relative’s name in multiple ways. Many of these databases require an exact match to provide the necessary information to identify a potential unclaimed asset. Account for human error by trying different spellings of your relative’s name, searching their maiden name, or using their initials and last name only.
Utilizing a Locator Service
Finding unclaimed money is not straightforward, but it is not very difficult either. It does take some legwork and some snooping around public government databases, from the IRS to your local state directory. Some companies and firms offer specific locator services to make the process easier but consider whether it’s worth the money before going for it.
Unclaimed inheritance money is generally hard to come by, and it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll find anything. Utilize a locator service only if you are somewhat sure there’s something substantial waiting to be claimed at the rainbow’s end.
Whether you use a locator service or go through the process of finding any unclaimed monies yourself, patience and due diligence are essential. It can take weeks of searching after years of waiting to discover a potential inheritance. An established estate plan, having a lawyer on retainer, and ensuring better recordkeeping, can help avoid this problem.