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What is unclaimed property?

Unclaimed property is any financial asset that has been abandoned or forgotten for a specific amount of time — often three to five years, but sometimes longer — after which, by law, it must be turned over to the state for safekeeping.

Some common forms of unclaimed property include checking or savings accounts; uncashed dividends or payroll checks; investment instruments like stocks, bonds, or brokerage accounts; life insurance proceeds; refunds; trust distributions; certificates of deposit; and annuities.

While it may be hard to believe someone could abandon an old savings account or forget to collect a final paycheck, unclaimed property is actually quite common. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, approximately one in seven Americans have some form or property owed to them that’s been forgotten.

“No one should assume they don’t have unclaimed property,” Ron Lizzi, a self-proclaimed watchdog of unclaimed property, told Channel 2 Action News.

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Retrieving unclaimed property

The first step to retrieve your unclaimed property is a quick online search. Every state maintains a database of unclaimed property for that state, and — by law — must attempt to return the property to its rightful owners.

If you’re unsure about how to access your state’s unclaimed property program, a quick and free online search at missingmoney.com should allow most individuals to search nationally for property they’re owed.

“The beginning part was easy,” Benerofe told Channel 2 Action News. “Type your name into Georgia Unclaimed Property and wait to see what pops up. You’d be amazed.”

If you find unclaimed property — which is highly likely, considering that many billions of dollars are sitting in treasuries waiting for their rightful owners to lay claim — all you typically need to do is file a claim form and supporting documentation to prove to the state that the assets are yours. Once approved, the state will transfer your property.

Unfortunately in Georgia, things were not that straightforward. Before the Channel 2 Action News investigation, the state’s searchable website for unclaimed property was only showing claims worth more than $50. That means, Georgians could have several claims for $10, $20, $30, $40 and they wouldn’t know it.

The probe “spurred” the Department of Revenue into fixing the search function on their website, with state revenue commissioner Frank O’Connell noting: “It’s our responsibility to try to unite them with their money.”

Like Benerofe and others like her, you may also find that you do not possess all the documents that are required.

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Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.

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