Whether you agree with the effort of states to escheat–seize and hold unclaimed private property–the statehouses make it easy to search and make a claim. In fact, they make it so easy one of the best pieces of advice we can give is to NOT use a third-party or a search firm to do this for you. It is completely unnecessary to pay any money to track down unclaimed money.
I performed a search for myself in every state where I lived since 1988—PA, MA, NJ, NY, MO and CA. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and New York there were zero cases of unclaimed property under my name. In Missouri, there were four cases of unclaimed property under my name for $52.67, $8.88, $2.70 and $1.34.
I filed for the $52.67 case online. The Missouri State Treasurer’s Office mailed the claim form to me and it required my current address, Social Security number, and proof that I had lived at the Missouri address listed at the time the property was seized. Luckily, I had copies of my old Social Security Administration annual statements (this went back 18 years!) and that was good enough for them. The paperwork was sent to the MO State Treasurer in mid-November and the check was mailed less than 14 days later.
If you have a case, it really is that easy. Below are some tips in making a claim and getting your money back.
1. Go to Your State’s Website for Unclaimed Property and Perform a Broad Search
To perform a search, the website will ask for first name, last name, town where you live, and/or zip code. You want to begin by performing a broad search with only your last name. If this turns up hundreds of cases, re-do the search with your first name. To reduce the fields even further, only then go to town or zip code. I am lucky in having an unusual last name and did not have to sift through dozens of cases of people with the same first and last name. However, I did discover additional cases of mine when I dropped the town and the first name. Further, I found family members that had unclaimed property—first and second cousins, uncles and aunts—when I just used my last name in the search.
2. File a Claim
Every state has a slight variation on filing a claim. Missouri made me file the claim online and then sent me documents in the mail. California asks that you file the claim online and then print out the documents to send in to the Treasurer’s Office. All the claims make you prove your identity which may mean a photocopy of your driver’s license or passport, proof that you lived at a certain address when the property was seized and/or copy of your Social Security card. Additionally, you may have to get your signature notarized for large claims such as those over $1,000.00.
3. If You Need Help, Call/Email/Write to the State Treasurer’s Office for Unclaimed Property
If you have trouble obtaining the necessary documents or are confused by the directions, the good news is that the Unclaimed Property departments in each state are responsive. I was surprised and delighted to find that officers in these departments answer their phones and respond to emails. For the most part, there is an ethos in these offices of service; they know that this money does not belong to them and it is their job to work the claims assiduously and diligently.
The fruits of my labor:
In the final installment, we will write about our experience in assisting providers making claims on behalf of individuals in their care.