Unclaimed Funds in The U.S.
Compared to the UK, trying to trace unclaimed money in the US is a nightmare. There are no centralised databases from which you can work – even funds involving the government aren’t truly combined in one, and all the available online databases, as the people who run them freely admit, contain only a small portion of the unclaimed accounts actually out there.
Why Would You Trace US Unclaimed Funds?There are realistically only two reasons why a foreigner would hunt unclaimed funds in the US. One would be that the person had lived and worked there at one point and believed they had money in an account of some kind there that they wanted to be able to claim.
The other would be having a relative or close friend who’d died there and the person was named as an heir in the will, or possibly even as executor. But there would still need to be belief that there were unclaimed funds lying around somewhere – and a reasonable idea of where.
The simple fact is that idly looking for unclaimed funds would be an almost impossible task. Each state (and that includes the District of Columbia) has its own database (these would include unclaimed bank accounts), none of which communicate with each other – in other words, there’s no single national database of unclaimed funds. To muddy the waters further, not only did a Supreme Court decision allow money to be held virtually anywhere, but when you investigate unclaimed federal funds you need to query each agency separately, and there are arcane laws regarding how long you have to claim some federal funds (but not others).
Where Should You Look?If you know where a person lived – not simply the state where they died, but all the states where they lived during their lives, then you need to check each one, and make sure your check includes all the variations of the name (that includes maiden name where appropriate, initials and all manner of general misspellings).
Perhaps the biggest problem is that if you only look online, there’s no guarantee you’ll find anything, as the online databases are actually just the tip of the iceberg – far more accounts are not listed online. So you’ll need to conduct your search either in person or through the post to be sure you’re going in depth on the matter, increasing cost and time.
However, it’s still worth an initial check on the online database, if only in the hope of getting lucky!
Federal FundsYou might imagine that all the different federal agencies might be covered by a single database, but that’s not the case. So, just as with states, you need to search each one individually if you believe that there might be missing funds that belong to you.
However, the database in each agency is at least quite complete, which helps, and it’s possible to eliminate a number of agencies quite easily (for example, if you or a relative had no connection with railways, then there’s no need to check the Railroad Retirement Board). Perhaps the most important agency to check is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), since there’s a possibility of an old tax refund cheque that might have gone unclaimed – literally millions of dollars each year are never delivered because people have moved, for example.
You should also check with the Social Security Administration. They have over £125 billion in unclaimed funds – pension cheques that were undelivered or were never cashed for some reason. If, in checking the possessions of a relative, you find a Social Security cheque that’s more than a year old, don’t attempt to cash it, as it will have expired. Contact the agency for a new one, if one can legally be issued.