By Jon L. Ten Haagen, CFP ®
As a child you may have dreamed about finding buried treasure, but you probably realized at an early age that it was unlikely you would discover a chest full of pirate booty. However, the possibility that you have unclaimed funds or other assets waiting for you is not a fantasy. According to National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), $41.7 billion is waiting to be returned by state unclaimed property programs. So, how do you find what is owed to you, even if it’s not a fortune? As Ben Franklin said, a “penny saved is a penny earned.” They add up.
Every state has an unclaimed property program that requires companies and financial institutions to turn account assets over to the state if they have lost contact with the rightful owner for a year or longer (such as when the account has been inactive). It then becomes the state’s responsibility to locate the owner. State-held property generally can be claimed in perpetuity by original owners and heirs.
For state programs, unclaimed property might include the following: Financial accounts, stocks, uncashed dividend or payroll checks, utility deposits, insurance payments and policies, trust distributions, mineral royalty payments and contents of safe-deposit boxes.
To see whether you have unclaimed assets, you may have to search your state’s databases and the databases of states where you formerly lived or worked. It’s possible that funds or assets are still waiting for you even if you moved away years ago. Fortunately, most states participate in a national database that you can search for free at MissingMoney.com
Finding lost life insurance policies might take some legwork. Life insurance companies that can’t locate a beneficiary must generally turn over the benefits from an individual policy to state unclaimed property programs, but might not do so if the company does not know that the policy owner has passed away. If you believe that a family member owned life insurance but can’t find the physical policy, you may need to look for evidence of it by contacting the policy owner’s insurance agent, attorney, or other financial professionals.
The federal government also tracks unclaimed property including: Tax refunds, pension funds, funds from failed banks and credit unions, funds owed investors from U.S. SEC enforcement cases, refunds from FHA-insured mortgages and unredeemed savings bonds that are no longer earning interest. I have come across so many people who are holding U.S. savings bonds which stopped paying or accumulating interest five, 10, and over 15 years ago. Check with your elder relatives and see if they have some in a drawer or safety-deposit box.
To claim property, follow the instructions given, which will vary by the type of asset and where the property is held. You’ll need to verify ownership, typically by providing information about yourself (such as Social Security number and proof of address), and submit a claim from either on line or by mail.
What if the listed property owner is deceased? A claim may be made by a survivor and will be payable according to state or federal law. For life insurance, you may need the full name and Social Security number of the decreased individual, a copy of the death certificate, and in some cases proof that you were the named beneficiary.
Be careful: Private companies may be paid to locate rightful owners and offer to ‘help’ rightful owners obtain property for a fee, but legitimate companies will ask you to pay only after you receive your property. State laws limit fees companies’ charge, so check with your state before you sign an agreement. However, in most cases you should be able to find the same property for free by checking state and federal databases. Be careful who you talk with – there are scammers out there trying to get your personal information. For more information about protecting yourself, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information site, Consumer.ftc.gov.
To help you and your family members, you should get a “document locater,” which lists all your important papers, etc. Fill it out completely, make two copies and put them in a safe place. Let your family know where the locator is located. You can get a document locator by contacting your financial advisor or by requesting one through my website, Tenhaagen.com.
Happy and safe Thanksgiving to all. Enjoy your families.
Huntington’s Jon L. Ten Haagen, CFP, runs Ten Haagen Financial Services, Inc., a full-service independent financial planning firm, and he is here to answer your questions. In this bi-monthly column, Ten Haagen will answer your financial questions and help you with his expert financial advice. Don’t be shy, our expert is here for you, so feel free to ask away! Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org today, and let our expert help you.
*Ten Haagen is an Investment Advisor Representative offering securities and advisory services offered through Royal Alliance Associates, Inc., member of FINRA/SIPC, and a registered investment advisor. He is also an active community member, serving on several nonprofit boards and as executive officer of the Greater Huntington Boating Council.
**BACK IN HUNTINGTON: The offices of Ten Haagen Financial Services, Inc. have moved back to 191 New York Ave., Huntington. Friends and clients are welcome to stop by, check out the new office and share a cup of coffee with the expert!