Are you missing some tax money?
The science of debt denial

States have money for you, too

If you're not one of the 115,478 folks due an undeliverable federal tax refund, don't despair. Your state might have a windfall for you.

Netting_money Our local paper recently contained a special section listing folks who have assets they forgot about. That property ultimately was turned over to the Texas Comptroller's office, where it waits for rightful owners to claim it.

Last year, the hubby found his sister's name on the list. She ended up $700 richer; her good fortune is blogged about here.

No such luck this year, for either my sister-in-law or any other relatives. But there are plenty of other Texans -- and residents of states across the country -- with assets waiting to be reclaimed.

So exactly what kind of abandoned property stacks up in these offices? A wide variety of financial holdings, other than real estate deeds, including:

  • Dividend, payroll or cashier's checks
  • Stocks, mutual fund accounts, bonds
  • Utility deposits and other refunds
  • Bank accounts
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Safe deposit box contents
  • Insurance proceeds
  • Mineral interest or royalty payments
  • Court deposits, trust funds, escrow accounts

Tracking down lost loot: Now the important questions.

  1. Where do I find out if some of that valuable stuff is mine?
  2. How do I get it back?

Most states have outreach programs to help property owners find out about and claim lost or forgotten assets that, by law, are required to be turned over to state officials. In addition to newspaper listings, state officials set up unclaimed property displays at state fairs, malls, and other public events and work with other public officials, such as legislators and local librarians, to get the word out.

And, of course, there's the Internet., a national database, was established in November 1999 to help in that effort. So far, 36 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are part of the program; two most states are joining soon. The site's online search option can help you find unclaimed property being held for you.

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), the official organization of such state programs, also has links to other sites that track unclaimed assets that don't fall under the jurisdiction of the state programs.

Getting your goodies: According to NAUPA, last year more than 1.9 million abandoned property claims were filed. The dollar total: at least $1.7 billion.

Most states hold lost funds until the owner turns up, returning the assets at no cost or for a nominal handling fee once a claim form is filed and the owner's identity is verified.

Some firms, sometimes called finders or locators, track down lost property and, for a fee, offer to tell the owners how to obtain it. The fee is usually a percentage of the asset's total value and many states limit the charge to 10 percent.

Sometimes, says NAUPA, companies will hire locators to find owners before they turn the property over to the state.

The majority of finder firms are legitimate, but there also are unclaimed property scams. If you hear from a locator, NAUPA recommends that before signing any contract, you contact your state's unclaimed property office directly for more information.

Hang onto it in the first place: So that you don't have to thumb through annual newspaper inserts, surf unclaimed property Web pages or deal with locator companies, the NAUPA suggests you:

  • Keep a record of all bank and savings accounts.
  • Record all stock certificates and be sure to cash all dividends received.
  • Record all utility deposits, including telephone deposits.
  • Respond in writing to any requests for confirmation of account balances with banks, stockbrokers and utility companies.
  • Prepare a check list of all accounts to be notified when you change your address. Share this list with a family member or trusted advisor.
  • Notify your bank, broker, credit card issuers, employer, 401(k) administrator, insurance contacts, mortgage lenders, doctors, attorney, accountant, investment accounts, and others of your name changes due to marriage, divorce or other legal action.
  • Cash all checks promptly upon receipt.

Here's to happy and profitable hunting for any of your old, overlooked assets.


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Janice Dillaha

I made it a point to tell clients about this last tax season. A few of them did find money out there.

Here's the problem that you have when you find it. Three times a client has submitted information to the state to claim the $ that she found. You would think that a death cert for a spouse, a marriage license and a copy of a drivers license all submitted with the completed claim form would be sufficient to prove identity and relationship, allowing for the release of the money. Yet the state's recent response indicated to "Jane Doe" that she cannot claim the funds because Mr Doe's wife's name is "Jane Ann Doe" and the money rightfully belongs to the spouse.

If they would just say that they aren't going to pay this money to her no matter how many hoops she jumps through, I think it would be more honest.

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