It is surprising how much money and property ends up on a city or state's unclaimed property list, including anything from unrecovered security deposit returns to dormant investment accounts. Most states try to locate owners of unclaimed property by posting lists in newspapers or on the internet describing the property and providing the names and associated addresses of the owners. Some, like California, offer a simple website search engine where an individual can enter her name and city to see if any unclaimed property in her name has been reported.
Procedure for Claiming Property
Anyone who searches for unclaimed property in his name and finds some has cause to celebrate. But even with the online search engine process, the claimant has to do more than just check a box to get the property returned. The procedure varies among states.
Obviously, many people would love to claim a forgotten $10,000 bank account or even a $150 utility refund, and some might take a chance on making a claim for property even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with them. The claimant will also need to prove his identity, his current place of residence and that the property belongs to him.
Proving Identity for Unclaimed Property
The claimant must provide proof that she is the person identified as the property owner. In California, the state asks for one of these documents to establish identity:
- Copy of the claimant's current driver license.
- Copy of a state-issued photo identification card.
- Copy of a military ID card.
- Color copy of the first and last pages of a valid passport.
The claimant must also prove her Social Security number by submitting a copy of her Social Security card, an original pay stub with the entire SSN, a copy of a W-2 form, a copy of a medical card showing the entire SSN or a copy of her Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) authorization letter.
If a claimant's name has changed and is now different from the name listed on the unclaimed property list, she should also provide provide documentation to prove the name change, like a court order.
Proving Identity of Foreign Citizens
Citizens of foreign countries generally will not have a SSNs or ITINs. Instead of these documents, they can claim property by providing these items:
- Completed IRS Form W-8 BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status.
- Color copy of the first and last page of a current passport or two forms of government-issued identification, like a copy of a certified birth certificate, current consular identification card or current resident visa.
Proving Current Mailing Address
The government also requires proof of a claimant's current mailing address in order to make sure that someone isn't trying to defraud the real owner. A claimant can usually use an original pay stub or copy of an IRS form like his W-2 Form, Form 1098, Form 1099-INT or Form 1099 DIV. Other acceptable proof can include a copy of a mortgage statement, a real estate property tax bill or an original utility bill or bank statement.
Proving Ownership of Property
Finally, the claimant must offer evidence linking herself to the unclaimed property. If the unclaimed property is itself linked to an address, the claimant can provide proof that she lived at that address or received mail there. For example, any tax document, mortgage document or original pay stub or utility bill listing her residence as the reported address will usually be sufficient.
If the unclaimed property is not associated with an address, the claimant must show some direct proof of her right to the property. If the property comes from a financial institution, she might provide an original bank statement, a stock certificate or an original account statement from that company. If the property is a safe deposit box, she might list the property held there.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.