Flower being placed on tombstone

Receiving an inheritance, whether it’s expected or unexpected, can help to improve your financial outlook. But through poor oversight or lack of planning, an inheritance could be temporarily displaced. It’s possible that you may have unclaimed money from deceased relatives waiting for you that you don’t even know about. But how do you find it? And what happens to it if you don’t? If you suspect that 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 that you’re entitled to money left behind by a deceased relative then you can make a legal claim to it under the inheritance laws of your state. The types of financial assets you may be able to claim include:

  • Bank accounts

  • Real estate

  • Vehicles

  • Certificates of deposit

  • Bonds

  • Stocks

  • Retirement accounts

  • Insurance policies

  • Annuities

  • Contents from safe deposit boxes

  • Royalties

  • Utility deposits

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

Filing a claim for a life insurance policy that you’re the beneficiary usually means presenting proof of identity as well as a copy of the death certificate. So if you haven’t obtained that yet, then you’d need to do so first. Other types of accounts that can have named beneficiaries include 401(k) plans, IRAs, payable on death accounts and trusts.

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

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What Happens to Unclaimed Money From Dead Relatives?

Surviving family members discuss unclaimed money

There are different reasons that money may go unclaimed when someone passes away. Going back to the previous example, it’s possible that parents could take out life insurance policies without informing their children simply because they aren’t 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, then forgotten about them. That’s not uncommon among seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Unless they have a conservator or someone else they trust to manage their financial affairs, it’s entirely possible that assets could slip through the cracks. The end result is that those accounts become unclaimed money.

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

The state then holds on to these assets until someone comes forward to claim them. States generally don’t impose any time restrictions on how long you have to do this. So you don’t have to worry about missing an opportunity to lay claim to unclaimed money. In fact, if you never go in search of unclaimed money from deceased relatives, your estate could still make a claim to those assets once you pass away if state inheritance laws allow it.

How to Find Unclaimed Money From Deceased Relatives

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

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

  • MissingMoney.com

  • Unclaimed.org (from the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA)

  • TreasuryDirect.gov (to find unclaimed Treasury securities)

  • FDIC.gov and NCUA.gov (to look for unclaimed accounts at failed banks or credit unions)

  • PBGC.gov (for unclaimed pensions)

  • UnclaimedRetirementBenefits.com (to check for unclaimed 401(k)s and other retirement plans)

  • ACLI.com (to look for unclaimed group life insurance policy benefits)

In terms of where you can look for unclaimed money from deceased relatives offline, you can check with your state’s office of the treasurer. Your state may have a specific division set up just for unclaimed assets that can help you find assets you may be entitled to receive.

You can also check local and state property tax records for vehicles, land or homes that your deceased relative may have owned. This won’t definitively tell you if you have a claim to those assets; that’s determined by your state’s inheritance laws. But it could point you in the right direction for making a claim if you believe you’re entitled to inherit.

Finally, consider what you can do beforehand to avoid a situation where you’re trying to locate unclaimed money from deceased relatives. Talking to your parents about their estate plan, for example, can help you avoid situations later in which bank accounts, life insurance policies or assets go missing. A trusted financial advisor can help with navigating these discussions and creating a plan for managing your parents’ assets during their lifetime and beyond.

The Bottom Line

Safe deposit box

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

Financial Planning Tips

  • If you have an inheritance coming your way associated with unclaimed money from deceased relatives, consider talking to a financial advisor about the best ways to use it. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors in your local area. You just need to answer a few simple questions to get your advisor recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.

  • Use this capital gains calculator to see how the gains you make when selling stocks will be impacted 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 have a will in place yet, making one can help you avoid intestacy. It can also be helpful to review 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 pass away. Establishing a payable on death (POD) account or a 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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