Unclaimed Cash: Finder Firms

FRESNO, Calif.

Serena Merrill managed her mother's finances and cared for her before she died. But years after the estate was settled, Serena 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. It was a total surprise to get this money at all," Merrill said.

Recently Serena 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. Your first stop should be a website called missingmoney.com," Greg Daugherty said.

Missingmoney.com has records from 35 states and the District of Columbia and links to the remaining state agencies, which safeguard a lot of unclaimed property.

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

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.

An increasing number of databases can help you find other lost assets including: pensions and 401k 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. Also be prepared to spend some time filling out paperwork," Daugherty said.

But as Serena found out, the effort can be well worth it.

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