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Tips to find and claim family’s forgotten assets

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Dear Savvy Senior: A while back I read an article about online tools that can help people search for lost or forgotten money left behind by deceased relatives, but I’ve misplaced it. Can you help me with this? My mom, who died in January, was always bad about keeping up with her money, so I’m wondering whether there was anything she left behind. — Searching Son

Dear Searching: Forgotten or lost money is actually common in the United States. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, there are literally billions of dollars in unclaimed funds sitting in state treasuries and other agencies just waiting to be found.

These unclaimed funds are from accounts that are inactive or whose owners, or their heirs, cannot be located. Unclaimed funds can include lost or forgotten saving or checking accounts, stocks, utility security deposits, tax refunds, life insurance policy proceeds, uncashed dividend checks, matured savings bonds and much more.

This typically happens because of a change of address (the owner moved), a name change (the owner got married or divorced) or the owner’s death, with the estate unaware of the money or the heirs unable to be located. By law, companies and financial institutions that can’t find owners or their next of kin within two to five years must turn over the property to the state, where it’s held indefinitely.

Where to search

About 10% of all Americans have some unclaimed money waiting to be found, so it’s very possible your mother had some, too. To start your search, go to, which has links to all state programs that will let you do a state benefits search online for free. Or you can do a multistate search in 39 states at

Be sure to check every state in which your mother lived, worked or did business. Also, make sure to check under your mom’s maiden name, and if she had a frequently misspelled name, search those misspellings, too. Using her first initial and her last name is also encouraged to make sure everything comes up.

Every state can tell you immediately whether your mom has some unclaimed money, as well as how to go about collecting it.

Look here, too

In addition to state treasuries, here are some other resources that can help you look for unclaimed money that may have been overlooked.

>> Forgotten retirement benefits: To search for lost or forgotten 401(k) funds, use the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits at Or to search for lost pension benefits, use the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. trusteed plan search tool at

>> Lost life insurance: To track down a lost or forgotten life insurance policy, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, an insurance regulatory support organization, offers a free policy locator service at­locator.

>> Unredeemed savings bonds: It’s common for people to lose track of U.S. saving bonds, because they are often given to children as gifts, then forgotten before the bonds reach maturity. To find out whether your mom had any, the U.S. Department of the Treasury provides an online search tool at for finding matured, uncashed savings bonds over 30 years old and no longer earning interest.

>> Federal tax refunds: Each year, thousands of refund checks totaling millions of dollars are returned to the IRS by the post office. To look for lost federal tax refund checks, go to or call 800-829-1954.

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit

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