It's not uncommon to find stories of people whose lives were changed -- or who are hoping their lives will be changed -- by the windfall that can occur when you find an unclaimed inheritance. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, known as NAUPA, reports that as of 2015, more than $41 billion in unclaimed property was waiting to be returned by state unclaimed property programs. This figure includes inheritances left by family members you might not have even known existed.
Shot in the Dark
Even if you have no known relatives who may have died unnoticed and no logical reason to search for an inheritance, do it anyway. The search is fun and exciting in a lottery ticket kind of way, only better, because you really could find an unclaimed inheritance, and you don't have to pay to play.
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All 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico operate free programs that are typically overseen by the Treasury Department to help citizens find and recover unclaimed assets. The only information you need to start a search in the nationwide or individual state databases where you or your relatives have lived is your last name and first initial. The database search engine provides results that help you narrow your search and prompts you for additional information like your birth date and Social Security number. NAUPA provides free access to all of the U.S. databases and endorses the combined database Missing Money, which is also free to use.
Be thorough. While you may not find an unclaimed inheritance, a careful search may recover a long forgotten 401(k) or that insurance policy your grandma started when you were born.
Be wary of companies that charge to do these searches for you. Know what you are paying for before you sign a contract or remit funds. Remember, state and combined database searches are free and with minimal time investment.
When a Relative Dies
If a relative dies estranged from other family or with her affairs in disorder, your effort to find any unclaimed inheritance may be more effectively undertaken personally. Knowing the county and state of death is enough to launch a search for her assets. However, the more personal knowledge of the deceased you have -- such as her birth and death dates -- the easier it will be to recover your relative's assets.
Contact the Probate Court in the county where your relative resided to determine whether an executor has been named to distribute the estate and, if so, how to contact him to find out if and how the deceased assets have been disposed of. If an executor has not been named and you can prove your relationship, you can petition the court to be the executor. If granted, your responsibilities to the estate will include the collection of assets and distribution of the inheritance. If you have access to your relative's mail, go through it often and carefully. It can help you identify bank and other accounts as well as additional organizations she belonged to and people she knew. Take time to talk with your relative's friends and acquaintances because they can help you find an unclaimed inheritance you didn't have a clue existed.
You will require proof of your identity as well as of your relationship to the deceased to claim any inheritance you find.