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The government wants you to reunite you with your money – no strings or fees attached. That could mean an unexpected windfall for you.
Billions of dollars sit unclaimed because state and provincial governments can't find the rightful owners.
According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta in Canada have some type of program that actively seeks to find owners of lost and forgotten assets.
These assets could be utility deposits, insurance payouts, bank accounts and safe deposit box contents, stocks, bonds and dividends, uncashed checks and wages, CDs, trust funds and escrow deposits. Typically, they revert to the state and are put into an account while the state tries to determine the whereabouts and identity of the rightful owners. Unclaimed property laws have been around since at least the 1940s, but the Internet has made reuniting the funds with the rightful owners easier.
In Michigan it's fairly simple, according to Terry Stanton, a spokesman for the State Treasury Department. All someone needs to do is go to Michigan's Money Quest and insert their name or that of deceased relative to whom they are a legal heir. If there are funds, an Initial Inquiry Form will pop up that spells out what you must do to claim the funds. Print out the form, fill it out completely, provide proper documentation, and your funds could be in your hands in 180 days or less.
Contrary to popular belief, the government doesn't always want your money. In fact, the law in Michigan – and in most other states – says it must actively try to give it back.
"That's exactly our statutory duty," Stanton said. "Once it is given to us, it is our duty and our responsibility to reunite it with its rightful owner."
There's no statute of limitations on funds in Michigan, he added.
In Ohio, the state Department of Commerce provides a direct link to www.missingmoney.com, a Web site endorsed by participating state and provincial governments and the NAUPA. It never charges a fee and provides instructions on how to claim funds.
To use www.missingmoney.com, simply enter your first and last name in the spaces provided on the home page. If there's a hit, there will be instructions on how to claim the funds. If you live in a state that isn't connected to the Missing Money data base, the site has a listing of all state and provincial contact information and Web sites to see if you have unclaimed funds.
For instance, if you are looking in California, just hit the California link and it will take you to the state controller's Division of Collections, Bureau of Unclaimed Property Web site. From there, use the Unclaimed Property Inquiry System link and enter the information.
There are some commercial services on the Web that claim to find unclaimed funds, but it's really nothing you can't do for yourself. You should never pay to find your money.
"There is absolutely no need to pay a fee finder," Michigan's Stanton said. "What's yours is yours, and all you have to do is prove it's yours and you get it."