The TV infomercials aren’t scams – there actually are millions in lost assets waiting to be reclaimed across the country. Our older generation is often hesitant to talk about money, so it’s not uncommon for a relative to die without leaving clear records of what they own. Unclaimed lost assets could include checking accounts, safety deposit boxes, stocks, dividends, tax refunds, and more.
How do you find out if a deceased relative has any lost assets for heirs to reclaim? Follow our guide to find out where to look, how to uncover the records, and how to apply to reclaim these assets.
Getting Started: Gather the Required Information
In order to reclaim any lost assets, first make sure you have gathered the following personal data for the deceased relative:
- A list of every name the deceased ever went by, including full legal names, nicknames, maiden names, aliases, etc.
- A list of all known addresses where the deceased previously resided
- An original copy of the death certificate
- The deceased's social security number
- The Letter of Qualification or Letter of Testamentary (if you are the personal representative of the estate)
Hide and Seek: Where to Reclaim Lost Assets
To begin, use Unclaimed.org — the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) — to help you find each state's website for reclaiming lost assets. That will most commonly be a state commerce or treasury department site. Check each state the descendant has lived in to see if there are unclaimed funds spread across different states. You can also use the NAUPA-created MissingMoney database to search multiple states at once.
On either site, the state you click on will direct you to state-specific websites and guidelines on how to find and reclaim lost assets. Look for a tab that refers to unclaimed property or a search bar where you enter identification information of the deceased.
Anyone can make an unclaimed asset search, but only a personal representative — like an administrator or executor — can actually claim the property on behalf of the estate (and you’ll have to show documentation). Don't worry, you will still receive any assets you are entitled to if you are named as a beneficiary or heir.
Search Expertise: When to Hire an Asset Search Firm
If you get a call from an asset-finder (people who specialize in tracking down unclaimed assets), it means that some amount of assets probably do exist. The call itself may not be a scam — but beware the exorbitant fee they require to reclaim lost assets for you.
For example, let's say you have a grandmother who died. Long after the funeral, you and your family are contacted by an heir-finder saying they have found $17,000 in unclaimed assets. Here's the catch: they want 40% of it. That's $6,800, leaving you with only $10,200.
If your time is at a premium, then hiring a search company may be worth these costs for you. But if there are other heirs, know that all of the beneficiaries of an estate must agree to the decision to use one of these companies.
Providing a search service is perfectly legal (if you have concerns you can contact the State Department to learn if the company is fraudulent). But there’s no reason you can’t work around them and claim the assets yourself – remember that you have access to the same public databases that they do.