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Where to Look for Lost Property
U.S. savings bonds were once so popular (and so often tucked away) that an estimated $25 billion in matured savings bonds have never been claimed. These bonds have been caught in a legal battle between the federal government and states that want to take control of the bonds on behalf of residents.1
In August 2019, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the federal government, saying that only the rightful owner could redeem bonds that were missing, stolen, or destroyed (typically by providing serial numbers). However, the Treasury has allowed states to redeem bonds in their physical possession and hold the proceeds for their rightful owner.2 As this conflict illustrates, one of the challenges of finding lost property is knowing where to look.
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 one year or longer. The state is then responsible for locating the owner.
For state programs, unclaimed property might include financial accounts, stocks, uncashed dividend and payroll checks, utility deposits, insurance payments and policies, trust distributions, mineral royalty payments, and the contents of safe-deposit boxes. State-held property generally can be claimed in perpetuity by original owners and heirs.
Most states participate in a national database called Missing Money; searching on MissingMoney.com is free. You might also need to check specific databases for every state where you have lived. For more information, see the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators at unclaimed.org.
Unclaimed property held by federal agencies might include 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. There is no central database for federal agencies, but you can find more information at usa.gov/unclaimed-money.
Proceed with Care
Finding and receiving unclaimed property to which you are entitled should not cost you money. Though there are legitimate companies that may be paid to locate or offer to help rightful owners obtain property for a fee, you do not need to pay them in order to receive the property. Be on the lookout for scammers who claim to have property in order to obtain other information about you or your finances. If you have questions, contact your state's unclaimed property office.
1-2) The Wall Street Journal, August 3 and August 13, 2019