This article by Karen Jowers originally appeared on Military Times, the nation's largest independent newsroom dedicated to covering the military and veteran community.
Could there be some unclaimed money or other property waiting for you in a state where you’ve lived? It’s a real possibility — whether you’re current military, part of a military family, or left the service years ago. And it might be a few dollars or thousands.
For example, the Arizona Department of Revenue’s Unclaimed Property program recently put out a notice that the agency has identified more than 14,000 current or former military members who have unclaimed funds in their names — with last known addresses of Fort Huachuca, Luke Air Force Base, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Yuma Proving Ground, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, and Camp Navajo.
This military-connected Arizona unclaimed property is valued at $7 million, and some of it dates back 30 years. The largest amount of property due to an individual is $136,217.
And that’s just one state. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, one in 10 people nationwide have unclaimed property; and states return $3 billion a year to owners.
This property could include a wide variety — such as money left sitting in accounts in banks and credit unions, refunded deposits for rent and utilities, stocks and other investments, uncashed checks, rebates, tax refunds, life insurance, credit balances and dormant safe deposit boxes.
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Companies are required to try to reach people who have unclaimed property, but often the company has outdated or wrong forwarding address information. So after several years of inactivity, the companies turn the property over to the state.
There are a few ways to search for any unclaimed property, including going to each state’s unclaimed property site. Note: These are free, legitimate searches; there is no need to pay money to do this, although many other websites want you to pay.
- Visit the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, and click on their map of states where you’ve lived to check for property at that state’s website for unclaimed property. NAUPA is a network of the National Association of State Treasurers.
- In addition, NAUPA sponsors a website, MissingMoney.com, where you can check multiple states’ databases at once for unclaimed property. MissingMoney.comsearches those databases using the name. The search results show possible unclaimed property for someone with that name in any of those states, associated with specific previous addresses. If you lived at that address, you can be directed to your state’s unclaimed property site, to start the process for verifying your identity. States have various requirements to claim the property, including providing documentation.
Be patient. You’re dealing with various processes and bureaucracies, and states want to be careful to make sure they pay the funds to the rightful owner.
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Currently 41 states participate in MissingMoney.com, said David Milby, project manager for the website, which is operated by Avenu Insights & Analytics. Milby was the former director of NAUPA. The company works in partnership with state unclaimed property administrators to help them manage the millions of records they take in from companies each year, he said.
The military is a prime group of people who unclaimed property programs are intended for, Milby said, because of the frequent moves. “All unclaimed property programs are extremely excited when they can reunite military members and former military with their unclaimed property.”
Navy reservist Brad Earl knows from his personal and professional experience that money could be waiting for military members to claim it. Years ago, after hearing about unclaimed property, he checked it out, and found $250 all told in three states where he had been stationed on active duty.
He’s currently a senior chief legalman in the Navy Reserve. But his full-time job in the civilian world is director of Unclaimed Property for the Virginia Treasury, and he encourages people to check for unclaimed property every chance he gets.
Earlier this year when he attended the senior enlisted academy, he touted the MissingMoney.com site to his classmates. “Some of my classmates told me later they’d found money,” he said.
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It especially applies to service members and family members, retirees and other veterans who have left the service. “It’s the nature of the environment they operate in… They move every three or four years, and more than likely rent their residence,” Earl said. “They may leave deposits behind, and sometimes it’s difficult to reach them.”
It’s even more important now, during the pandemic and the economic hardships. “Every penny counts,” he said. “You don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve also seen retired IDs come through, when we ask for identification” when people are claiming their property, he said.
“States are protecting your money,” Milby said, noting that until about 50 years ago, companies would keep this money. But by the 1970s, every state had an unclaimed property law and program in place to give the money back to the rightful owner, he said.
“The liability to pay that rightful owner never goes away,” said David Lemoine, vice president of finance and revenue solutions for Avenu. The states “are the custodians of that owner’s property. It’s always there, in perpetuity.”
That includes safe deposit boxes, which may hold military medals, papers and other items.
Brad Earl recalls when, as unclaimed property director in Arkansas, a World War I Victory Medal was turned in to the state. “It was phenomenal just to be able to put my hands on that,” he said. Unfortunately they hadn’t been able to connect it to the rightful owners by the time he left the position earlier this year.
“Someone would love to have that, especially one of the family members,” he said. “A lot of unclaimed property just doesn’t get claimed.
“But when we can return it, it’s very rewarding.”
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