AFTER THEY MARRY, some people discover their spouse has hidden debt. We had the opposite situation.
Several years after we were married and while living in Illinois, my wife got a letter from the New York Secretary of State saying she may be the owner of an unclaimed savings account in the town where she was raised. This was before the internet. We had no idea how New York found her. Neither my wife nor her parents remembered the account. My wife filled out some paperwork and a few weeks later she received a check for a few hundred dollars.
Apparently, it’s common for people to forget about things like bank accounts, retirement accounts and utility deposits. Because states don’t want financial institutions and other companies sitting on this money, with no incentive to track down the owner, they require that unclaimed assets be turned over to the state. As a result, states hold billions of dollars in unclaimed property.
Today, thanks to the internet, searching for unclaimed assets is easy. Recently, I spent an evening checking for unclaimed assets in the six states in which my wife and I have lived. Using Google, I typed in the name of a state and “unclaimed property.” One of the first suggestions was always the official secretary of state site for unclaimed property. Most sites—though not all—had a “.gov” suffix, indicating it’s an official government website. Alternatively, you can locate official state sites by going to Unclaimed.org.
The sites varied slightly, but usually I could simply type in a name and then hit “search.” I used only my surname. If you also enter a first name, you may not find assets where the first name is listed only as an initial. I never knew there were so many folks called Sayler. It seems some of my very distant cousins are quite lax in keeping track of their financial assets.
On each site, it was easy to search for me, my spouse, our children, and even my parents and siblings. Maybe it reflects well on our family that I had just a single success. We found our son’s name, along with an address where he had previously lived. It said the amount the state had for him was less than $100.
We called our son and told him to go to that state’s site and type in his name. Claiming the money was easy. He simply entered his Social Security number and birth date. When those matched the state’s records, it asked for his current address. Larger amounts may require more documentation. Two weeks later, our son received a check—for $3.