Billions of dollars unclaimed money lies with various American states, federal agencies and other organizations. You could be rightful owner of some of this missing money.
These unclaimed big bucks are held by the federal and state governments, banks, pension and insurance providers and stock brokers, among others. They belong to people who have departed the world. The money now belongs to their surviving relatives.
How does it benefit me?
Thousands of Americans remain blissfully unaware about wealth bequeathed by dead relatives. While federal and state agencies exert efforts to trace you, they are hindered for several reasons:
Absence of bequest: This is the most common. A relative can forget making a bequest or will in your favour.
Frequent relocation: Moving places for work can render you untraceable to authorities in a vast country like US.
Insufficient information: It is possible your relative did not possess relevant details including your present address, Social Security number or other data for agencies to contact you.
Change in identity: Women assume surnames of the family they marry into. Few men often discard names given at birth in favour of nicknames. Your dead relative may be unaware of your exact nomenclature including given and baptismal names to offer precise identification.
Mini fortune might be waiting
Inoperative bank accounts, life insurance unclaimed by beneficiaries, pension schemes and benefits and forgotten stock holdings account for US$ 35 billion to US$ 60 billion.
The amount can be much higher considering the number of American citizens who work abroad. US laws allow American citizens working abroad to have offshore financial ties. These foreign financial dealings are permitted subject to certain federal laws.
US citizens generally hold offshore accounts with renowned international banks. A fraction of earnings abroad by US citizens can also be held in local banks in various countries. The Middle East is a classic example, where hundreds of Americans work in US-based energy firms.
Reasons for Unclaimed Money
There are several reasons why you may be unaware of your mini fortune.
Forgotten bank accounts: Often benefactors forget small amounts held in various banks at different locations. The money remains rightfully yours, though the bank account is deemed non-operational.
Unclaimed life insurance: You are entitled to receive life insurance pay-out of any deceased relative.
Abandoned pension schemes: People are fond of pension schemes since they assure comfortable retirement. Thousands of such schemes are abandoned midway. You have a right to claim money deposited by a dead relative.
Neglected stock holdings: Stocks held by a dead relative can be claimed by survivors.
Offshore dealings: A dead kin could hold offshore accounts, abandoned after returning back to the US.
Lost forex/ commodities accounts: Your departed relative could have speculated in the foreign currencies or commodities market. The account goes non-operational if left untraded for several months. Funds however remain intact.
Government bonds: Your departed benefactor may have held unclaimed government bonds too.
Bank safes and lockers: Enquire with banks whether your dead relative held any safes or lockers. These would most likely contain information about other financial dealings. With some luck, you might find stockholding certificates, bank passbooks and other documents vital to lay claim.
Looking for Missing money
Searching for unclaimed money can be truly rewarding. In 2012, a Connecticut resident claimed $32.8 million, proceeds from the sale of nearly 1.3 million shares of stock, according to a news report. The report on CNN Money further adds, US$41.7 billion worth money from deceased people lies unclaimed. Looking for unclaimed money is fairly easy.
You will require irrevocable proof of your identity and relationship with the deceased kin. This is foremost requirement for accessing unclaimed money.
Find whether the bank, financial institution your relative held money is still functioning. Check if a non-functional bank has merged with any other entity.
Fine if you hold a bequest explicitly mentioning your name as heir. If not, you will need to trace whether the dead relative had executed a will/ bequest in somebody else’s name. You are required to prove legal validity of your claim.
Federal and state governments as well as banks and financial institutions provide several online resources to help you search for unclaimed funds. If you meet prescribed criteria, you can inherit the money.
Tougher tasks ahead
Having procured documents to support the claim, you need to embark on a series of procedures to trace the money.
Read passbooks/ bank statements diligently: You may stumble across payments made to pension funds and insurance companies. The federal government has agreements with most large insurers on claiming forgotten, unpaid money.
Check employment history: Your deceased relative will most likely have financial ties at places and companies worked while alive. Banks where your relative received salary will be indicated in employer payrolls.
Look for discarded credit/ debit cards: Old, expired credit/ debit cards reveal banking history of a person. This can help trace funds forgotten in an old account.
Inventory of assets: Maintain a detailed list of known and possible assets held by the relative. This will assist you in claiming unknown funds quicker.
Once you succeed in tracing unclaimed funds, handing over the claims process to an attorney is strongly recommended. A lawyer will help save your precious time. Their assistance in getting the funds released will prove invaluable.
The federal and state government do not pose unnecessary hurdles. Yet, they need to ensure they money is going to the right person. This may cause inadvertent delays in getting the money. There are several intricate laws governing unclaimed money. Lawyers can definitely assist in faster claim settlements.
Beware the debt trap
Any hidden wealth of dead relatives will undergo the probate process. Probate means a court will gather evidence of assets and liabilities. Once all liabilities are settled, the remainder will be handed as inheritance.
Here lies the trap. You can seek unclaimed funds. But these will also undergo the probate. If liabilities exceed assets: You may end up coughing substantial amounts of cash to creditors. Remember, banks have their own mechanisms to protect against bad debts. If probates did not exist, people would have continued piling credit till they die.
Bargaining through debts
This requires legal assistance and skill. Very often, banks and other creditors will ask you to settle the full amount owned by a dead relative. You can lose big money if that occurs. These debts will eat into the unclaimed money you seek.
Plus, they can land you in debt. Arbitrate with banks and lenders about any unpaid debts left by your relative. Reach agreements on amount to be paid and repayment schedules well in advance before your claim is probated. Get written agreements about such loans and repayment from creditors, where possible.
Fake claims and heirs
Cases where bogus claims have been filed for unclaimed money are rife. Individuals who stake such claims are fraudsters. These criminals find out net worth of a dead relative. They file a false claim in court.
Genuine relatives and heirs sometimes settle with these scammers for smaller sums of money. Alert the police and your lawyer if any scammer approaches you with fake claims. Read all alerts regarding missing money scams. Information about your claims should be divulged on a ‘need-to-know’ basis only.