Every state has laws on handling unclaimed property. They are designed to answer the question of what to do when a business or organization is holding property for someone else (i.e., a consumer, a creditor, or a customer) and loses contact with that person. What happens to that property?
Companies don’t get to absorb those funds into their books. The law requires companies to turn the proceeds over to the state after a certain period of inactivity. Funds are generally considered unclaimed after three years and can come from a variety of sources.
Perhaps you qualified for a rebate on a TV that you bought five years ago but forgot to include the zip code when you told them where to mail a check. Maybe you switched where you do your banking, and you didn’t clean out your old account completely. Potentially you were owed a utility deposit after you moved out of your last home, but they didn’t have a forwarding address.
Any of these scenarios could be cases where money owed to you is instead handed over to the state.
Making a Claim
However it may have happened, each state’s Department of Revenue will hold those funds and act as a custodian until the owner makes a claim. The process for claiming the funds depends largely on the state, how much identifying information a company had for you when the property became inactive, and if you can provide documentation that you are the correct owner. But in a lot of cases, the steps are straightforward and begin with a search on your state’s Department of Revenue website.
If you find unclaimed property that belongs to you and you initiate a claim, you may be asked to provide proof of identify (like a driver’s license), proof that you lived at a certain address (like a utility bill), proof of a name change (like a marriage license), or proof that you did business with the company that turned over the funds (like an old statement or receipt.)
Tips for Searching for Your Unclaimed Property
When searching for your name, try all potential variations that you go by. It’s possible that when you signed up for a cable package, you put your name down as Annie instead of Anne.
Make sure you search for funds associated with old addresses too. Oftentimes, your money goes “missing” due to a residential move. A lack of a forwarding address is a big reason companies owing you money can no longer find you. This step might even mean checking out a different state’s Department of Revenue website.
Search out the names of your friends and family! It’s a fun treasure hunt to see if anyone you know could potentially have a check coming their way if they make a claim. While more than 10% of the U.S. population is owed unclaimed money, a lot of people don’t even know these programs exist.
There is currently $49.5 billion held by state Departments of Revenue as unclaimed property, and there are absolutely no fees for making claims on that money. About $3 billion is claimed annually, but that leaves a lot of money on the table, waiting for the rightful owner to claim it.
Here are the websites to search for unclaimed property in Washington state and nationally: