Lost & Found: The Unclaimed Property Program

Few things in life beat reaching into an old coat and finding a crumpled up $20 bill

Before you start digging into every jacket pocket or flipping over couch cushions, consider there might be an easier way to find lost money.

The state of Virginia (and every other state) runs a service called the Unclaimed Property Program. The program is essentially a state-wide “lost & found” that aims to reunite consumers with money (or other property) that is rightfully theirs, but which they either forgot about or didn’t receive.

What is Unclaimed Property?

Generally, property becomes “unclaimed” (i.e. abandoned) after the owner cannot be located or the account has been dormant for a prolonged period of time. In Virginia most property is considered abandoned after five years of inactivity. For certain types of property the limit can be as short as one year or as long as 15 years. After the dormancy period has passed the property is turned over to the state for safeguarding.

You might be wondering how someone can let money go unnoticed, but it’s more common than you’d think – every year consumers leave billions of dollars on the table. People move, change banks, and change service providers all the time. It’s easy for money to fall through the cracks in the midst of so many changes. For example, a company sends a refund check to an old address, or you forget to close a checking account you haven’t used in years.

What types of property are included?

Only certain types of property are recoverable under Virginia’s unclaimed property program.

Examples include bank or financial accounts, certificates of deposit, stock shares, dividends, customer refunds, insurance proceeds, and even safety deposit boxes. This extends to property owned by individuals, businesses, and even the estate of someone who has died.

Physical assets such as real estate and vehicles are generally not included.

How do I know if I have unclaimed property?

It’s easy! Start by visiting Virginia’s unclaimed property online database (non-Virginians: visit this site to find your state’s rules).

Answer a few basic identifying questions and you’ll know within seconds. It will even say the type of property, which company it’s from, and a dollar value range.

Fair warning before you get too excited: having unclaimed property doesn’t mean you hit the jackpot! There is no minimum reporting threshold, so your lost money could possibly be less than $1.

unclaimed property virginia
Find lost money with vaMoneySearch.org!
How do I submit a claim?

Filing a claim is straightforward and better yet, 100% free in Virginia! First, you need to register with the state by creating an online account (see below screenshot).

filing a claim for unclaimed property

Next fill out the claim form to prove your identity (they can’t just hand the money over to you without proof!). If the property is under $200 the form can be faxed; otherwise it should be mailed. You can also deliver the form in person, but do not expect payment on the spot: you’ll have to wait just like everyone else.

That’s it! It usually takes about 6-8 weeks for a claim to be reviewed and approved. Upon approval, you will either receive the funds via check or instructions on how to take back possession of the property.

Conclusion

Search the unclaimed property database at least every other year as a part of your overall financial plan. It just might be the closest thing to a free lunch!

Check out these FAQs to learn more.

Disclosures

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