How to find unclaimed funds

With a little patience and effort, our reporter harvested a handful

Published: July 13, 2015 03:25 PM

Consumers are missing an estimated $41.7 billion in financial property, says the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). That includes everything from forgotten bank accounts and stock certificates to uncashed insurance policies. All 50 states and the District of Columbia administer unclaimed property programs to help return holdings to their rightful owners. But how much work is it—and how much time does it take—to find and retrieve that property? And what’s the payback?

A Consumer Reports reporter decided to find out. Here are the steps she went through to find and retrieve unclaimed funds in her name.

Step 1: Initial research

Our reporter checked at unclaimed.org, run by NAUPA, which directed her to the Office of the New York State Comptroller’s unclaimed funds page. She typed in her name and found two listings, both showing her address as that of her deceased grandmother. Clicking on the link led to details: The lost property, reported in 2002, was shares in Medimmune, a biotech company that was purchased by AstraZeneca in 2007. Her grandmother had apparently bought the investment in both of their names. The Web page didn’t say how much the holdings were worth.

Time: 15 minutes.

Step 2: Digging deeper

At missingmoney.com, another free website endorsed by NAUPA, our reporter found that she could check unclaimed property in any state. She found nothing for herself but did uncover holdings for two relatives.

Time: 10 minutes.

Step 3: Handling the details

Our reporter read the New York State online directions for how to claim her money. She couldn’t figure out how to handle property when a co-owner is deceased, so she called the unclaimed funds division directly. A worker said she’d need her grandmother’s death certificate. She called her father for a copy. A few months later, death certificate in hand, she filled out and printed an unclaimed-funds form from the New York website. It had to be notarized; a co-worker in her human-resources department did that free of cost. The reporter mailed the two documents, as the worker recommended. For good measure she included an explanatory note and a copy of an old Medimmune document she’d found showing both owners’ names and her grandmother’s address.

Time: 35 minutes (not including the two-month wait for the death certificate).

Cost: $3.79 for certified mail.

Step 4: Waiting ... and success

A letter from the New York Office of the State Comptroller arrived 15 days later, indicating that claims involving deceased owners take longer than most to review. The claim could take 90 days, the letter stated. But exactly two months after her original mailing, our reporter received her first check from New York State, for the value of the first stock holding: $174. A day later, she got a second check, for $61.34.

Time: 2 months.

Gain: $235.34.

The bottom line

Total time: 1 hour active, two months waiting.

Net gain: $231.55.

Consumer Reports Money offers unbiased, experts advice on investing, managing, and spending your money wisely.


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