Escheatment: Where Unclaimed Assets Go

Do you have unclaimed assets?

Pile of boxes with unclaimed written on them

Posted on Jan 25, 2021

Did you ever forget about an old bank account, gift card, or uncashed check? Are you serving as an executor or caretaker of a loved one, and have come across a bank statement or information relating to an account in your loved one’s name?

When money that a person owns or is entitled to appears to be abandoned, the bank or other organization that is holding the money cannot retain it for their own use. After a period of time, they’re required to turn it over to the state. This process is called escheatment, and every state has laws requiring all companies to turn over abandoned property after a certain amount of time, usually between three to five years. In Pennsylvania, the time period is three years.

Financial institutions and other holders typically try to contact the owner of unclaimed property in advance of escheatment. However, once property is escheated and turned over to the state, the owner of the money or other property can still access it by making a proper claim for it. Below are a few tips to guide you through this process.

Where do I start my search for a bank account or safe deposit box? Contact the financial institution and inquire about the existence of the account or safe deposit box. The financial institution may be able to tell you what happened to the account or safe deposit box. It may still be open, but if the financial institution determined the account or safe deposit box was abandoned according to law, any money or contents of value would have been transferred to the state.

What if details about the account are lost? You remember opening an account several years ago, but can’t quite remember the name of the bank and you don’t have your old bank statements anymore. Or, as an executor, you think there was an account at a bank, but you don’t know which one. Now what can you do? In this case, you may need to check with the state. You can search online for the state’s unclaimed property department. You may also want to check the unclaimed property registries for other states you have lived in, or nearby states such as Maryland if you do business with companies located in that state.

How do I find out if there is unclaimed property held by the Pennsylvania Treasury Department? To find unclaimed property, search the Unclaimed Property database at www.patreasury.gov. There is NO CHARGE to claim your escheated property. In addition to monies from bank accounts and contents of safe deposit boxes, you may find uncashed checks, lost stocks and bonds, proceeds from the demutualization of insurance companies, and even expired gift cards or certificates. You may be surprised that the Pennsylvania Treasury is currently seeking the owners of more than $3.5 billion in unclaimed property.

If you find your missing property, you can file a claim. Of course, you will be asked to prove your identity in order to claim it. And, if you are the heir entitled to the property, you may need to prove that too. Sometimes assets transferred to a state may have already been sold because there was no space left to store them. In most cases, the original owner or heir still have the right to claim the proceeds from that sale.

How do I keep accounts from getting lost? Keeping good records of your bank accounts can help prevent you from losing an account in the first place, as well as can help you or a loved one avoid having to go through a long and time consuming search for lost assets. Set a goal to update your records---including information about accounts that you have closed or moved to another financial institution--at the start of a new year and make this a task to tackle every year. Be sure to destroy documentation for accounts you have closed as soon as you no longer need them.

Finally, it’s very important to make sure your bank knows how to contact you. Any time you change addresses, make sure your bank has your current address on file. At the same time, remember to also submit a Form 8822 Change of Address to the Internal Revenue Service and submit a Change of Address to the U.S. Postal Service.

In summary, if you find an old bank statement for an account you are not familiar with, don’t worry. The account may have already been closed years ago; but, if it wasn’t, you may still find the lost account at the bank or with the state. Just think, you might locate something of value that you believed to be gone forever...or never even knew existed.