How to find and claim forgotten assets

LOS ANGELES Because many people move from state to state, and because each state has its own way of holding unclaimed assets, it used to be much more time-consuming to look for lost money. But that has changed.

Serena Merrill managed her mother's finances and cared for her before she died. But years after the estate was settled, Merrill found $4,000 in lost assets that no one had known about. The check arrived one Christmas Eve.

"My sister was really thrilled because she was in extreme financial hardship at that time," said Merrill. "It was a total surprise to get this money at all."

Recently Merrill was tipped off by a so-called "finder firm" that there are still other unclaimed assets. While these firms might be able find your money a bit faster, there are fees involved. But Consumer Reports Money Adviser can tell you how to find forgotten assets without spending a dime.

"A lot of the research a finder firm will do for you, you can definitely do on your own," said Consumer Reports columnist Greg Daugherty. "Your first stop should be a website called" has records from 35 states and the District of Columbia and links to the remaining state agencies that safeguard a lot of unclaimed property.

"Unclaimed money can come from any number of sources: forgotten bank accounts or safe deposit boxes, uncashed paychecks," said Daugherty.

An increasing number of databases can help you find other lost assets including pensions and 401(k) plans, accounts at failed financial institutions and U.S. Savings Bonds.

"Be aware that only you can claim your money, and for that you'll need proof of your identity," said Daugherty. "Also be prepared to spend some time filling out paperwork."

As Merrill found out, the effort can be well worth it.

One thing you don't need to worry about is your assets disappearing. States and the federal government have to keep the assets until claimed.

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