Billions of Dollars Have Been Abandoned

Monday, 28 Jan 2013 07:42 AM

By Michael Kling

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Billions of dollars have been lost, and some of it might be yours. All you have to do is claim it.

Unclaimed property, also called abandoned property, adds up to billions of dollars. State unclaimed property programs alone hold $41.7 billion, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

In fiscal year 2011, states returned $2.25 billion in 2.5 million claims to the rightful owners. The average claim: $892.

Editor's Note: Make 2013 the Year You Pay Zero Taxes

Financial accounts are deemed abandoned if there's no activity or contact with owners. They could be bank accounts, stocks, insurance payments, pension benefits, savings bonds, tax refunds or other types of accounts. Businesses and nonprofits can also have unclaimed property.

By law, companies where the accounts are held must turn the lost funds over to states, which try to find the owners. While state laws differ, property claims can usually be made into perpetuity. If it's not returned — and most if it usually isn't — it helps fund state governments.

Some abandoned accounts amount to pocket change; others run into the millions of dollars. A Connecticut resident, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed $32.8 million from the proceeds of stock sales last year, according to CNNMoney.

People are surprised to learn they have abandoned property.

“That’s the thing about lost property,” said Todd Hollenbach, Kentucky state treasurer, in a press release. “If you knew it was lost, you’d have gone looking for it long ago, and it wouldn’t have stayed that way.”

When hearing news of their unclaimed funds, many fear a scam or worse, he said. “A lot of them are wondering if maybe they’ve got unpaid taxes, and the sheriff is going to be waiting for them.”

People looking for their lost money can try using websites like www.missingmoney.com or www.unclaimed.org, according to Mary Pitman, author of "The Little Book of Missing Money."

Beware of companies charging fees to collect your money, she warns, saying you can seek the funds yourself for free.

Editor's Note: Make 2013 the Year You Pay Zero Taxes

© 2014 Moneynews. All rights reserved.

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