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Returning Unclaimed Property to its Rightful Owners

By Carol Kaufman, Founder & CEO of CareBinders, LLC

Between $40 and $400 billion dollars of assets have been "escheated" or confiscated by state governments in the U.S. and are sitting in state funds waiting to be claimed.  Such assets are referred to as "unclaimed property".  People forget about property and assets they own or aren't aware of assets their loved ones have or had.   The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), a non-profit organization, is responsible for overseeing unclaimed property and ensuring the highest standards of professionalism and best practices in raising awareness of, protecting and returning unclaimed property to its rightful owners.

What is Unclaimed Property? 

Per NAUPA, unclaimed property is defined as "accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity generated or contact with the owner for one year or a longer period".  The time frame before escheating property varies by state.  Some examples of types of unclaimed property include bank accounts, stock and dividends, payroll checks, bond interest, trust distributions, certificates of deposits, annuities, and credit balances.

How Property Becomes Unclaimed 

The most common reason abandoned property is turned over to the state and becomes unclaimed property is when a resident of that state:

  • Moves without notifying every business contact
  • Moves without receiving a utility deposit refund
  • Forgets about accounts it may still have open
  • Has checks that have been lost in the mail, not cashed or forgotten
  • Leaves a job and doesn't return for the final paycheck
  • Has no account information or process for notifying heirs upon death

The good news is there is currently no statute of limitation on unclaimed property.  Property that was confiscated over 50 years ago can be claimed if you are an heir of a deceased relative.  Even better, the process to check if you have any unclaimed property waiting for you is easy and free.

Steps to Search for and Claim Unclaimed Property 

  1. Go to
  2. Click on the state in which you want to check for unclaimed property.  You'll be taken to that state's unclaimed property section on its government site.
  3. Type in the name you had when you lived in that state.  A list will appear of all the names and addresses (including variations of the first name), for which the state has unclaimed property.  Depending on the state, it will even list the reporter of the unclaimed property so you see where it originated from as well as if the value is above or below a certain threshold, such as $100.
  4. If one of the results is a match you can initiate an unclaimed property initial inquiry by clicking on the record number or the name of the person listed for that record (varies by state).  You should allow 120 days for the initial inquiry to be processed.
  5.  Once the state acknowledges the property may be yours, it will send you another form and request documentation to establish ownership and identity as the rightful owner.  State-specific claim instructions will be provided with the claim form.

Legitimate proof of your right to claim unclaimed property includes proof of address and proof of name at the time of confiscation.  Any document that officially lists your previous address is sufficient.  If your name has changed due to marriage, a marriage certificate or court document confirming such is required.  Typically, the most effective documents to confirm proof of name and address at the time of confiscation are the front page of your tax return and a utility bill.  To ensure that you have proof for future claims, scan each document and store both the hard and digital copies safely.  If you are claiming property from someone who is deceased you will need to provide additional documentation to prove your relationship and/or right to the claim, such as an obituary or court documents listing you as the representative or heir of the estate.

To date, the largest value claimed was $6.1 million worth of stock in 2011.  While that is a rare result, the only cost for you to check for unclaimed property is your time.  Perhaps you'll receive an unexpected gift as the holidays approach!  If you need assistance, please reach out to CareBinders at

Carol R. Kaufman, Founder/CEO of CareBinders, LLC, is the creator of CBData® Life Inventory™ Solutions, a combination of software and services to help pull all of your important information into one safe, secure location. Her first product, InvesTier®, was acquired by SunGard in 2002. An entrepreneur for over 35 years, Ms. Kaufman's specialties include public speaking, training and software/service-based solutions to organizational problems. She resides in Ridgewood, NJ.