Usually, when it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But your state government may be holding onto money and property from forgotten bank accounts, stock dividends or safe deposit boxes.
Here's how you can check whether you've got missing money or unclaimed property out there:
Each jurisdiction has an unclaimed property website. Current or former residents can search their names for free to find out if the financial office is holding onto your property. This could include unclaimed cash or assets from a bank account, security deposits, insurance benefits and other funds.
- In D.C., the system is run through the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
- In Maryland, the Comptroller's Office handles unclaimed property for the state.
- Virginia's system is run by the state Department of the Treasury.
To check if you have unclaimed property, go to the search page of the appropriate state and enter your information -- normally your full name and address. You can search for claims for yourself, a business or the deceased.
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In D.C. and Virginia, if you get a hit, the search results will quantify a range or category of the amount owed. D.C. and Virginia also allow residents to complete the claim online and check the status on the website.
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In Maryland, everything is done by mail. After searching on the comptroller site to see if you have a claim, you can fill out a form and mail it in with proof of identification.
How much money is out there?
In D.C., more than $21.3 million in property was returned during the 2017 fiscal year. Maryland has returned more than $1 billion in cash and properties over the years.
The Maryland Comptroller's Office says it has "hundreds of thousands of records worth hundreds of millions of dollars," while the Virginia Department of Treasury reports that it currently has more than $1 billion in unclaimed property reserves.
Last August, four Marylanders who filed claims retrieved a total of more than $564,000. Last summer, one woman in Bethesda, Maryland, claimed more than $100,000 from a bank account.
Several of the larger claims involve money that heirs of deceased relatives decided to pursue.
"This is welcome news for these Unclaimed Property recipients and I'm glad my Unclaimed Property staff were able to make the connection to pass along this good news to the rightful owners," Comptroller Peter Franchot said in a statement.
How long do you have to make a claim -- and how long does it take?
Anyone who qualifies can seek their unclaimed property even decades after it was turned over to the government. Financial institutions, insurance companies and corporations must report unclaimed property to the government if it remains unclaimed for three years or more, but there is no deadline for the owner to cash in on the claim.
The amount of time it takes to get the cash or property for the claim depends on the type of request and the jurisdiction. In Maryland, claims typically take six to eight weeks to process after they are received. In Virginia, it will take about 60 days for most claims.
Cash claims will be available forever, but tangible items like valuables from safe deposit boxes are sold at auction or on eBay, and proceeds from the sale are then credited as cash in the owner's claim.
Currently, the Maryland unclaimed property division has six items for auction on eBay and the corresponding page for D.C. has 20 things on sale, including jewelry, coins and an 18K gold pocket watch listed for $2,400.
The unclaimed property divisions in all three local jurisdictions try to notify people when they can identify ownership. This has been done using newspaper advertising, online promotional videos, news media campaigns and mass mailings, according to the unclaimed property websites.
Although a claim can be submitted at any time, the normal rules of cashing a check still apply, so the Maryland Comptroller's Office encourages people to do so promptly.
"When you get your check, please cash it as soon as possible," the office's website says. "If you do not cash your check within six months of the date printed on the check, it will remain as unclaimed funds and you may have to file a new claim."