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Unclaimed property databases allow you to search for property that belongs to you, such as a tax refund or an insurance claim check, that you may not be aware of. Searching your state's unclaimed property database may take just a few minutes, and it could be the only way you're able to reconnect with certain property that's rightfully yours.
What Is Unclaimed Property?
Unclaimed property refers to property or accounts at financial institutions, companies or government agencies where there's been no activity or no contact with the owner for at least one year, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. After the no-activity or no-contact "dormancy" period ends, the property is designated as "unclaimed" and must be turned over to a state agency that handles unclaimed property.
The dormancy period varies by state. For instance, it's generally three years in California but can be up to 15 years in Texas.
The period usually starts when a company, such as a bank, tries to notify you by mail or other methods that it has your unclaimed property or when you don't reach out to the company to collect it within that period. Typically, state laws require companies that are holding your unclaimed assets to hand them over to the unclaimed property agency in the state where you were last known to be living.
A variety of items may be listed in an unclaimed property database. Among them are:
- Checking accounts
- Savings accounts
- Uncashed paychecks
- Certificates of deposit
- Security deposits from utilities
- Contents of safe deposit boxes
- Insurance payouts
Financial institutions and other organizations that are holding onto your unclaimed property generally must notify you in writing that the property will be transferred to a state unclaimed property agency if you can't be reached. Once the property is transferred, the state agency will try to alert you by, for instance, publishing notices in newspapers, sending a postcard to the owner's last known address or promoting the property on social media.
Beware of scammers pretending to be government officials notifying you by email, text message or another method and claiming they've got your unclaimed property. In many cases, these fraudsters offer to send money to you in exchange for a fee or for your personal information (such as a Social Security number).
Why Should You Search for Unclaimed Property?
Searching for unclaimed property can be a goldmine. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators says the U.S. has billions of dollars worth of unclaimed property. Here's just one example of how lucrative a search can be: As of September 2022, the state comptroller's office in Texas was holding more than $7 billion worth of unclaimed property.
Fortunately, you don't need to spend a single penny to hunt for your unclaimed property on an official database and ultimately recover it.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says you can pay a reputable company to help reclaim your property, but you don't need to do that. If someone tells you that you must hire a service to make an unclaimed property claim, they could be trying to scam you.
In some cases, a state agency may auction off property that goes unclaimed after a certain period. For example, the Arizona Department of Revenue conducted an online auction in January 2023 to sell jewelry, coins, cash and other items from abandoned safe deposit boxes. Meanwhile, some states may hold investments (such as stocks) for a limited time, then sell them and keep the proceeds. In Wisconsin, for example, that period is one year.
But in most cases, a state agency hangs onto unclaimed property for an indefinite amount of time. Florida and Illinois, for instance, say they never assume legal ownership of unclaimed assets.
How Do You Find and Claim Unclaimed Property?
Each state's unclaimed property database operates differently, but these sites tend to be simple to navigate. Typically, you can start your search for unclaimed property by supplying your first and/or last name on the relevant state's official unclaimed property website. A search might be narrowed by entering information such as a middle name, city or ZIP code. Providing addresses of previous residences may also help.
Once the search results pop up, you can scan the information to see if your name appears. You'll generally see names and addresses for all of the entries in the database that match the information you provide. For instance, if your name is Jeff Smith, you'll get a description of the unclaimed property (such as stock from a brokerage company) and the value of that property for each person named Jeff Smith the state has in their records. The same is true if you search an old address; you'll get results for anyone with unclaimed property who has lived at that address.
If you recognize your name and the property, then you're given a way to begin the process for claiming the property. As part of the claim submission, you'll be asked at some point to provide proof of your identity (such as a driver's license) and proof of property ownership (such as a utility bill).
To do a one-state or multi-state search, visit MissingMoney.com, which is under the umbrella of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. To pinpoint a single state, visit the association's Unclaimed.org website.
Here's a brief rundown of how unclaimed property searches work in the country's four most populous states.
- California's database asks someone to provide their name or a property ID number. A search can be narrowed by typing in your address and city. You're then sent to a results page where you can comb through names, cities, addresses, property types and property values. If you spot your property, you can add it to your claims "cart."
- Florida's search starts with a request for your last name. You can narrow the search by adding your first name, middle name, city and ZIP code. On the search results page, you'll see first and last names, account numbers and addresses. Once you spot your name, you'll click on the related account number and then be given the opportunity to claim the property.
- New York's unclaimed property site requires you to enter your last name and suggests adding your first name. Then, a page of search results appears; it shows names and addresses. Once you click on a name or address, you can see the property type. If the information matches your information, you can then proceed with claiming the property.
- On the unclaimed property site for Texas, you'll start your search by entering your first and last name. You'll then see names, addresses, property types, property ID numbers and property values. If you see your name, you can click on an adjacent button to begin claiming the property.
The Bottom Line
Searching a state's unclaimed property database can reconnect you with assets you've forgotten about or didn't even know existed. You can hunt for the property on official state or national websites. Just remember that reclaiming your property costs nothing. The work you put into this effort is a small price to pay for something that might yield big results.