Pennsylvania Unclaimed Money (2019 Guide)

pennsylvania unclaimed money

 

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Looking for unclaimed money in Pennsylvania?  Our handy guide to finding unclaimed property and unclaimed money will give you all of the tips you need to help you locate and claim your unclaimed property and money.   This guide helps you understand what unclaimed property is, why states and some parts of the federal government have and maintain unclaimed property databases, how to locate those databases, what type of searches you can run on them, how to file unclaimed property claims, how to avoid losing property and the pros and cons of using services to help you locate and claim lost property.

Before states began developing unclaimed property databases, it could be very difficult to locate that property.  Some counties had their own unclaimed property databases.  Which meant that, if you were searching for unclaimed property in Pennsylvania before the state database was developed, you would have had to search in all of the following counties: Adams, Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Bradford, Bucks, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Crawford, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Somerset, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Venango, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland, Wyoming, and York.  Now, you no longer have to run a county-by-county search; instead, you can simply look at the statewide database.

What Is Unclaimed Money?

The terms unclaimed money and unclaimed property are somewhat misleading, because they give the impression that the property is up for grabs.  Unclaimed money or unclaimed property should actually be called lost property.  After all, the state knows the owner for the property, but is unable to locate the owner.  The use of unclaimed refers to the fact that the property owner has not claimed the property or money within a certain period of time.  Once an institution holding property has been unable to contact the property owner for a certain period of time, which is generally defined by statute, and usually at least a year, then it is considered unclaimed property.  The financial institution, company, or other property holder is then obligated to inform the state that the property has been unclaimed.  The state, or in some instances, the federal government, then takes possession of the property and holds it on behalf of the original owner.  Although the name seems to suggest otherwise, the unclaimed property never becomes forfeited; it is held indefinitely for the original owner.

If property is designated as unclaimed, then the holder of the property has to initiate a process to transfer the property to the state.  The state does not become a new owner, but simply holds the property for the actual owner of the property.  While almost all property held in a state passes to the state, some property stays at the federal level.  For example, unclaimed federal income tax refunds and federal savings bonds are held at the federal level.  In addition, while you may locate some life insurance policies on state registries, you may also have to look at nation-wide resources to locate that unclaimed money.

72 Pennsylvania Statutes §§ 1301.1-1301.29, the Disposition of Abandoned and Unclaimed Property Act, governs unclaimed property in Pennsylvania.  This law creates a presumption that property owned by the owner, but in possession of a third-party holder (usually a bank or other financial institution), becomes abandoned and is considered unclaimed after statutory designated periods of time in which the owner has failed to claim the property or otherwise stay in contact with the financial institution.  This presumption is overcome if the holder of the property has the information necessary to contact the owner.  In 2014, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania made some significant changes to its unclaimed property laws, which generally shortened the period of time for property to be considered unclaimed and transferred to the state.  That is because, while the state holds the money, property, or proceeds from the sale of property in trust for the original owner, the state does use funds made from the interest on the property.

Examples of Unclaimed Property or Money

Theoretically, almost any type of property could be unclaimed property.  However, the most common type of unclaimed property is unclaimed money in bank checking or savings accounts.  Other types of unclaimed money include: uncashed paychecks, certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds, uncashed dividend checks, unpaid insurance policies, securities, security deposits, royalties, state tax refunds, dividends, IRS refunds, overpayments, mineral royalties, and some property held in safe deposit boxes.

How Much Unclaimed Property in Pennsylvania?

While it may be difficult to believe that people forget that they have money out there, the amount of unclaimed property out there is significant.  How significant?  Well, one organization, the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), has estimated that there is approximately $42 billion in unclaimed property in the United States.  The amount is approximate because, literally every day, people are making claims on unclaimed property and other property is qualifying as unclaimed.

In Pennsylvania, nearly 1 in 10 people have unclaimed property.  In fact, the state is caring for around $3.4 billion in unclaimed property, making it one of the largest holders of unclaimed property in the United States.  In Pennsylvania, holders of unclaimed property come in a variety of forms and include: financial institutions, insurers, utilities, business associations, fiduciaries, courts, medical facilities, public officers, sole proprietors, government entities, and any other legal or commercial entity that is required, by law, to file a report with the Pennsylvania Treasury if they have unclaimed property.

Where Can I Find Unclaimed Property?

While we emphasize searching in state databases for unclaimed property, in reality, an unclaimed property search should be more comprehensive than a state database search.  After all, people hold property in several different ways.  We begin with recommending searching the property database for the state in which you live, or, if you are searching for property for a person who is deceased, for property in the state in which he or she died.  Then, you want to expand your search by looking at all of the states where a person may have resided.  If it is possible that you or the person for whom you are searching had an out-of-state employer or purchased life insurance from an out-of-state company, you may end up searching the databases in all of the states to make sure that you are not missing any information.

In addition to state databases, you may also want to check some federal databases and other national resources.  For example, the United States has a Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which can help locate unclaimed pension benefits, the IRS does not release unclaimed income tax refunds to the states, the federal government holds onto unclaimed bond money, and there are some national databases that can help you locate unclaimed life insurance policies.

Why Do States Have Unclaimed Property Registers?

There are two main reasons for states to have unclaimed property registers.  First, before they began the registers, then the holders of the property were able to maintain the money and the income it generates for their own use; the states wanted to be able to use that income.  Second, when the holders were the ones that were able to use the income, they had little incentive to try to locate the actual owners of the property.

Does the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Make Any Efforts to Locate the Rightful Owners of Money or Property?

While some states make efforts to track down the rightful owners of property, Pennsylvania concentrates its efforts on helping claimants find and claim their property after the claimants have begun their own searches.  Therefore, Pennsylvania is unlikely to contact you to let you know that you have been identified as the holder of unclaimed property.  This is important information to have because you may be contacted by a finder.  A finder is a property recovery specialist who assists potential claimants in locating property and then claiming that property.  A finder generally charges fees for their services; most taking a percentage of any money that they find and claim.  While finders can be helpful to those who do not have time to conduct their own searches, it is important to note that while finders charge a fee for helping you locate property and make claims, the Pennsylvania Treasury will perform those same service for free.

How Do You Find Unclaimed Money?

Before you begin a search for unclaimed money, it is important to have some basic information available to you. We suggest that you have your full name, including any aliases or prior names you may have used, a list of previous addresses, your social security number, a list of former employers, and a list of any union or similar organization memberships available when you begin a search. If you are searching for property for another person, you will need that information for them, and, if you are making a claim on their behalf, you will have to prove that you are entitled to make that claim.

In addition to searching for any money or property that you may have abandoned, we also suggest you search for money or property that may have been abandoned by someone who may have left you as an heir.  Common relatives that might leave you as an heir include: parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles without their own children, unmarried siblings, and unmarried children without their own children.

You will want to run searches on two levels: state and national.  With your state level search, you want to visit the state unclaimed property database for the state in which you currently reside or the last state of residence.  In addition, be sure to check all states where a person previously resided. You can find state databases at state treasury websites, which may go by a variety of names, including: treasuries, comptrollers, controllers, or financial officers.

You also want to make sure and search some national databases as well.  Most people are unaware that the IRS holds onto uncashed income tax refunds.  Other national sources for unclaimed property are pension companies, life insurance companies, and treasury bonds.

Another very important tip is to be flexible when looking for names.  We tell people to search by last name, first name; but also by last name, first initial.  In addition, are there any nicknames or aliases that a person has used?  Is the person married?  If so, check for maiden names.  If divorced, check former married names.  Also look for variations on your name.  A surprising source of unclaimed property is simply misspelled names on an account.

Of course, all of this searching can be somewhat time consuming.  You can always hire a third party, known in Pennsylvania as a finder, to conduct an unclaimed property search for you.  Finders will charge a fee, usually a percentage of the property they recover, for their services.

Are There Sources for Unclaimed Property Other Than the State Databases?

Although states are very good about requiring in-state holders to report property to their databases, a number of holders are not required to report their property to the states.  Mostly, this is property that is held by the federal government in some way, although there are other types of party, such as life insurance policies, which are not held by a particular state and may not make it into a state database.

Once people realize that money can be held by a federal agency, it comes as no surprise that one of the primary sources of unclaimed money on the federal level is the IRS.   After all, the IRS handles taxpayer money for the entire country.  What most people do not realize is that the IRS generally does not forward tax returns, and it keeps unpaid refunds/ uncashed IRS refund checks.  We always suggest searching the Internal Revenue Service website.

Although not as common of a source of unclaimed property as the IRS, another major source of unclaimed money is pensions.  Many people do not even realize that they have unclaimed pension benefits.  How many people?  Well, at this time, more than 70,000 potential claimants could claim a total of over $400 million in pension benefits.  Fortunately, in the United States, pensions are guaranteed through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which allow you to look for unpaid pensions on their website.  You can search them by the following categories: last name, employer name, state where the employer was headquartered.

Not surprisingly, another common source of unpaid money claims is government-issued bonds.  These bonds are issued by the U.S. Treasury.  The Treasury used to operate an unclaimed property database that simplified the process of locating lost bonds and claiming those funds, but it phased out the database.  While they are now more difficult to find, you can still claim lost bonds through the treasury.  You can visit the website at Treasury Direct, or call them at 844-284-2676.

Unclaimed life insurance policies are another source of unclaimed property.  In fact, it is estimated that about 1 in every 600 people is the beneficiary of a life insurance policy that he or she has not claimed.  Why are so many policies unclaimed?  Various reasons, but the biggest reason may be that people are unaware that they are beneficiaries.  There is no single database that allows you search for unclaimed life insurance benefits.  However, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Life Insurance Policy Locator Service allows you to input your information so that life insurance companies can check their records to see if they have any policies listing you as a beneficiary.

How Do You Find Unclaimed Money in Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania Treasury operates a website that allows you to search for unclaimed property.  The search parameters include: company or last name, first name, middle name, city, state, and zip code.

In addition to holding onto money, the Pennsylvania Treasury also operates the Pennsylvania Treasury Vault, which is used to maintain custody of tangible property like collectible coins, jewelry, military medals, stamps, antiques, savings bonds, and other physical items.

How Do You Claim Your Money in Pennsylvania?  

Once property is located on the unclaimed property website, the Treasury sends you claim forms.  The claim forms should be completed and sent, as quickly as possible, to the address provided.  You may be required to provide additional documentation.  The documentation required varies, depending on who is claiming the property and the type of property being claimed.  The claim forms will have detailed information about the type of documentation required, but, if additional documentation or information is needed, you may be contacted for that information.  All claim forms must be signed.

For easy reference, the address to send claim forms to is:

Bureau of Unclaimed Property
P.O. Box 1837
Harrisburg, PA 17105-1837

How Can I Prevent My Property From Becoming Lost or Unclaimed?

You know the expression, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?”  Well, it definitely applies to unclaimed property.  The very best way to make sure that you do not have unclaimed property out there is to take steps to keep track of all property.  Keep records of all of your financial transactions, not just opening bank accounts, but also any account that requires a deposit or could lead to a refund, such as utility accounts and rent.  Your records should include enough identifying information for you to locate the holder, as well as account numbers, the name in which you opened the account, and whether you are due a deposit.  If you have a safe deposit box, make sure that someone else knows the box’s physical location and number and has a key to access the box.  Do not leave checks or other negotiable instruments uncashed.  Finally, when available, sign up for electronic account management, so that you will still get information even if you move or change phone numbers.

How Do I Make Sure My Heirs Know Where My Assets Are if I Die?

Many people mistakenly believe that a will is enough to make sure that your heirs gets your assets when you die.  However, while a will tells your executors how you want to dispose of property, it does not tell them where to find that property.  Make sure that you leave instructions for your executor on how to locate all property names in your will, as well as the existence of and beneficiaries of any life insurance policies that you may have.  You also want to make sure that your executor can access your accounts, so you should leave them log-in information for your accounts.

Conclusion

While it is never fun to lose money, it can be fun to find money that you forgot you had.  Check out Pennsylvania Treasury’s Unclaimed Property website to begin your unclaimed money search today.