Every year or so I write a column about unclaimed property and I thought it would be a good idea to do one of those columns now. There are literally tens of billions of dollars of assets that owners have forgotten about that have been turned over to the government. These include things such as bank accounts, payroll checks, dividends and contents from safe deposit boxes. For example, when a bank account has no activity for a year or more, banks are required to turn that money over to the state. Another example is where a company sends a dividend check to a shareholder and the check is never cashed. These assets are turned over to the state until they are claimed by the rightful owner. In many situations, the money is never claimed. You may ask why someone wouldn’t reclaim their assets and the simple answer is, they either forgot that they own the certain asset or the individual passed away and the family either forgot or did not know about the assets.
Every state has an unclaimed property division that allows people to reclaim those assets. I believe every year or so, it makes sense for everyone to check to see if there were any assets forgotten about that the state has taken control over.
It would be nice if there was one place you could look and it would tell you if there were any assets from anywhere in the country that you have lost. Unfortunately, there is no national registry. Some states have joined with other states to combine their registries; unfortunately, Michigan is not one of them. If you have always been a citizen of Michigan, then the only place you probably need to look is the State of Michigan’s registry; however, if you have lived in other states, you must review those registries individually as well. You can check the Michigan registry online by going to www.michigan.gov and clicking on “unclaimed property.” Another good site to check is www.missingmoney.com
If you find there are assets you are entitled to, there is generally no statute of limitation and the procedure to reclaim your assets is not complicated. Typically, all you need to do is to complete a form and submit it to the State. However, if the unclaimed property is for a loved one who has passed, then it becomes a little more complicated. You have to show that you are the appropriate beneficiary. In some situations, you may have to open a probate to reclaim those assets.
There are many companies that offer services that will search and help you reclaim your assets. However, these companies are not inexpensive in the fact that they charge a substantial percentage of the assets they reclaim. I believe for the majority of people, particularly those who have only lived in one state, you can do the search yourself and save yourself a substantial amount in fees.
Unfortunately, not all unclaimed assets will be turned over to the state. For example, there are billions of dollars in life insurance policies that have never been claimed and the proceeds from those policies have not been turned over to the state. Therefore, searching for lost life insurance policies is a little more difficult. Unfortunately, in those cases there is not a national registry and therefore, you must contact every company individually. There is, however, a service that you can use. MIB Inc. (www.mib.com) offers a service for $75. They will search life insurance applications for you from 420 life insurance companies from January 1996 to the present.
If you haven’t checked the Michigan database, you should. In addition, you should also check the database for any state that you have previously lived in. It only takes a couple of minutes and you may be surprised, your name may show up. After all, it’s your money and it looks better in your pocket than it does the state’s pockets!
Rick is a fee-only financial advisor. His website is www.bloomassetmanagement.com. If you would like Rick to respond to your questions, please email him at Rick@bloomassetmanagement.com.