Odds are, someone you know has unclaimed property. In researching this, we discovered that one of our Realtors had several pieces of unclaimed property: a couple old utilities deposits, a credit balance, and a “miscellaneous outstanding check.” Each was worth between $10 and $75.
More than $1 billion of unclaimed property has been turned over to Washington State since 1955. Most of that money is in small amounts—between $25 and $100—and most of it belongs to people who have moved, changed phone numbers, or otherwise lost contact with a past bank, utilities company, government entity, or the like. Some of it might belong to you.
It’s free money—or, to be more accurate, it’s money you forgot you had. Finding out that you have unclaimed property won’t make you rich, but it could be enough for a nice dinner, a couple tanks of gas, or a little boost to your savings.
It all sounds vaguely suspicious, so beyond letting our community know about the Department of Revenue’s unclaimed property service, in this post we answer the questions we had when we learned about this.
What is unclaimed property?
Unclaimed or “abandoned” property is property or money held by an organization that has lost contact with the owner for an extended period. Property is usually considered unclaimed after three years, when, by law, it is turned over to the state of Washington.
What are some examples?
Banks, retailers, credit unions, utilities, corporations, insurance companies, and governmental entities are some of the many sources of unclaimed property. Typical unclaimed property includes:
- Bank accounts
- Insurance proceeds
- Stocks, bonds and mutual funds
- Safe deposit box contents
- Utility and phone company deposits
- Uncashed checks, such as payroll, insurance payments, or travelers checks
- Customer/patient credits
Why does the state have it?
State law protects unclaimed property until it can be returned. The Department of Revenue is the custodian for unclaimed property, and it administers an unclaimed property program to seek the rightful owners as a free public service. There is no time limit for filing a claim, and rightful owners or their heirs can claim property reported since 1955.
Is there really a billion dollars of unclaimed property?
More than $1 billion in unclaimed property has been turned over to the Department of Revenue since 1955. In fiscal year 2019, the Department’s Unclaimed Property Section received property worth more than $159 million. That same year, the Department reached a new record by returning more than 50% of the unclaimed property received to its rightful owners, valuing over $85 million.
How can someone check if they have unclaimed property?
The Washington State Department of Revenue’s website lets you search for any unclaimed property under your name. Searching takes just a few seconds, and you don’t need to provide any sensitive information. If you find out that you have unclaimed property, you can claim it from the state by clicking the Pursue Claim button and following the instructions on the screen. You’ll need to verify your identity in order to finalize a claim.
A note of caution
You will never have to pay to collect any unclaimed property that the state is holding in your name. It’s free. Don’t be misled by look-alike sites that try to charge you, or that try to collect your personal information right away. Don’t pay anyone who tries to charge an upfront fee in order to help you claim your cash or property. Some businesses may offer to help you with the claims process in exchange for 10–20% of your total claim, but the process is simple enough that you can do it on your own.