How to find unclaimed money from deceased relatives

Flower placed on the tombstone

Receiving an inheritance, whether expected or unexpected, can help improve your financial outlook. But due to poor oversight or lack of planning, a legacy could be temporarily displaced. You may have unclaimed money from dead relatives waiting for you that you don’t even know about, but how do you find it? And what happens if you don’t? If you suspect you may have unclaimed money left behind by relatives, it’s important to know what steps to take to track it down. A financial advisor can provide valuable guidance on how best to invest money from deceased relatives.

Can you claim unclaimed money from deceased relatives?

The short answer is that yes, you can claim money from deceased relatives. If you believe you are entitled to money left behind by a deceased relative, then you can make a legal claim to it under your state’s inheritance laws. The types of financial assets you may be able to claim include:

In some cases, you may be named as the beneficiary of an asset. For example, your parents may name you as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. In this case, you will automatically have a claim to the policy proceeds, regardless of state inheritance laws.

Making a claim on a life insurance policy that you are the beneficiary of usually means providing proof of identity as well as a copy of the death certificate. So if you haven’t got it yet, then you should do it first. Other types of accounts that can have named beneficiaries include 401(k) plans, IRAs, accounts payable on death and trusts.

The only time you won’t be able to automatically claim an asset or unclaimed money is if your relative specifically names someone else to receive in their will. If the will is legally valid, you should challenge its terms in court. A judge will then decide whether to confirm the probate or honor your claim to those assets.

What happens to unclaimed money from dead relatives?

Surviving family members discuss unclaimed money

Surviving family members discuss unclaimed money

There are several reasons why money may go unclaimed when someone dies. Going back to the previous example, it’s possible that parents could take out life insurance policies without telling their children simply because they don’t feel comfortable talking about money or estate planning. So you may not even know the policy exists. Another possibility is that a relative could have opened bank accounts and then forgotten about them. This is not uncommon among seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s. If they don’t have a conservator or someone else they trust to manage their financial affairs, it’s entirely possible for assets to slip through the cracks. The end result is that these accounts become bad money.

The good news is that unclaimed money doesn’t just disappear. It may, however, eventually end up being surrendered to the state if no one comes forward to claim it. Each state has laws regarding unclaimed assets, and while the timing varies, all require financial institutions to turn over unclaimed assets after a specified period of time has passed. For example, if no one comes forward after five years, then the state can take possession of unclaimed assets.

The state then holds those assets until someone comes to claim them. States generally do not impose time limits on how long you must do this. So you don’t have to worry about missing out on an opportunity to claim unclaimed money. In fact, if you never seek unclaimed money from deceased relatives, your estate could claim those assets once you pass away, if state probate laws allow.

How to find unclaimed money from deceased relatives

Finding unclaimed money from deceased relatives starts with inventorying the types of assets you think you need to look for. Again, this can include things like bank accounts, real estate, insurance policies, retirement plans, investment accounts, and other assets.

Once you have a list of potential assets to locate, you can start looking for them. Fortunately, there are several websites and online tools that make this part of the process easier. Some of the places you can look online for unclaimed money include:

As for where to search for unclaimed money from deceased relatives offline, you can contact your state treasurer’s office. Your state may have a specific department set up just for unclaimed assets that can help you find assets you may be eligible to receive.

You can also check local and state estate tax records for vehicles, land or homes your deceased relative may have owned. This will not definitively tell you if you have a claim on those assets. this is determined by your state’s inheritance laws. But it could point you in the right direction to make a claim if you believe you are entitled to inherit.

Finally, consider what you can do in advance to avoid a situation where you are trying to track down unclaimed money from deceased relatives. Talking to your parents about their estate plan, for example, can help you avoid situations later where bank accounts, life insurance policies or assets are lost. A trusted financial advisor can help navigate these discussions and create a plan for managing your parents’ assets during their lifetime and beyond.

The bottom line

Safe

Safe

Finding unclaimed money from dead relatives may require a bit of detective work, but it may be easier than you think. If you suspect you have some unclaimed inheritance money floating around, it’s important to take steps to find it. Otherwise, it could remain state property indefinitely. The good news is that there are numerous resources to help you determine whether your deceased relatives have left you unclaimed money, whether you may be entitled to it, and how you can access it.

Financial planning tips

  • If you’re getting an inheritance related to unclaimed money from deceased relatives, consider talking to a financial advisor about the best ways to use it. If you don’t yet have a financial advisor, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s Financial Advisor Matchmaker can help you connect with professional advisors in your area. You just need to answer a few simple questions to get the recommendations of your online advisors. If you are ready, start now.

  • Use this capital gains calculator to see how the gains you make when selling stock will be affected by capital gains taxes in your location.

  • Consider what you can do to help your heirs avoid an unclaimed money situation. For example, if you don’t yet have a will, making one can help you avoid indisposition. It can also be helpful to check your beneficiary designations for things like life insurance policies and retirement accounts to make sure your assets go where you want them to after you die. Setting up a payable on death (POD) account or trust may also need to be part of your financial plan. The more comprehensive your financial plan is, the easier it is to ensure that your assets end up in the right hands.

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